This week, Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order clarifying when an individual receiving unemployment benefits can refuse suitable employment for COVID-19 reasons and still remain eligible for benefits.
Under current law, a person becomes ineligible for unemployment benefits if they turn down suitable employment without good cause. However, there is no statutory definition of what constitutes good cause, so hearing officers at the Ohio Unemployment Compensation Review Commission have been making eligibility determinations on a case by case basis when a person refuses employment for concerns about the coronavirus.
The new executive order gives five COVID-19 related reasons to decline suitable employment including a person’s previous job that will qualify as refusal for good cause during the period of the state of emergency:
- A medical professional’s recommendation that an individual not return to work because the person falls into a category that is considered “high risk” for contracting COVID-19 by the CDC and the employer cannot offer teleworking options;
- The employee is 65 years of age or older;
- Tangible evidence of a health and safety violation by the employer that does not allow the employee to practice social distancing, hygiene and wearing protective equipment;
- Potential exposure to COVID-19 and subject to a prescribed quarantine period by a medical or health professional;
- Staying home to care for a family member who is suffering from COVID-19 or subject to a prescribed quarantine period by a medical or health professional.
As a result of this order, employers attempting to re-hire their employees may find the former employee falls into one of the five categories and will remain eligible for unemployment benefits – including the $600 CARES Act bonus payment – despite refusing to return to work.
While the executive order may exacerbate existing troubles that some employers are facing as they rebuild their workforce, it does prioritize the health and safety of Ohioans who are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or being hospitalized due to the virus.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce will continue monitoring changes to the state’s unemployment compensation system especially now that we are again borrowing money from the federal government due to our insolvent trust fund.