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Unemployment Compensation during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Historically, unemployment compensation benefits have been limited to individuals who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and could not find work despite actively seeking work. However, as a result of the State of Emergency declared by Governor DeWine on March 9, 2020 and the subsequent “Stay at Home Orders”, an unprecedented number of employees filed for unemployment compensation benefits.  Thereafter, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the state agency which administers Ohio’s unemployment compensation system, relaxed enforcement of normal and customary requirements and restrictions.  Therefore, job search requirements were waived and individuals who refused to return to work were not denied benefits.

On April 30, 2020 the Ohio Department of Health Director signed the Director’s Stay Safe Ohio Order that began the process of reopening businesses.  Employers naturally began to offer employees their same jobs that they held before the Director of Health’s Stay at Home Orders.  However, many employees refused to return to work for various reasons.  In normal circumstances, such a refusal to return to work would result in denial of weekly unemployment benefits.  In order to bring consistency and certainty to the situation, on June 16, 2020 Governor DeWine signed Executive Order 2020-24D.   The Executive Order stated that there is a presumption that an employer’s job offer of returning the employee to the same position as before the Director of Health’s Order is presumed to be “suitable work” as defined by Ohio unemployment compensation law.  Therefore, individuals who refuse such an offer of “suitable work” would probably lose their unemployment benefits unless they had “good cause” for such refusal.  The Executive Order specified five (5) reasons as “good cause” to refuse suitable work as follows:

  • A medical professional’s recommendation that an individual not return to work because he/she falls into a category that is considered “high risk” for contracting COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the employer cannot offer teleworking options; or
  • The employee is sixty-five years of age or older; or
  • 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; or
  • Potential exposure to COVID-19 and subject to a prescribed quarantine period by a medical or health professional; or
  • 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.

Notably among those who no longer qualify for Ohio’s unemployment benefits are those who quit or declined work because of childcare issues.  However, such individuals may still qualify for special federal coronavirus unemployment benefits at $600 per week.

Please contact a member of our Labor and Employment Section with questions or concerns about unemployment compensation.

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