Conventional understanding of unemployment benefits leads to the logical conclusion that when employees are capable of working and offered suitable employment, they are not entitled to collect unemployment benefits. But like many other things in the post-COVID-19 world, conventional thinking no longer rules the day.
Last week, on June 16, 2020, Gov. DeWine issued an Executive Order addressing unemployment benefits eligibility during the COVID-19 epidemic. It provides that when an employee is called back to work in the same position as before the Director of Health’s special orders, there is a presumption that the position is considered “suitable work” under the Ohio unemployment insurance program. However, an employee may refuse to return to work and still be eligible for unemployment compensation if “good cause” exists for the refusal.
The Order defines good cause as any of the following:
- The employee cannot telework and has received a medical professional’s recommendation to not return to work because he or she is at “high risk” for contracting COVID-19 according to the CDC (as of the date of publication, these high-risk categories are listed here);
- The employee is 65 years old or older;
- Tangible evidence of an employer’s health and safety violation, that does not allow for social distancing, hygiene and wearing protective equipment;
- The employee has had potential exposure to COVID-19 and is subject to a quarantine period by a medical or health professional; and
- The employee is staying home to care for a family member who is suffering from COVID-19 or following a prescribed quarantine period by a medical or health professional.
Employees who show one of the good cause categories above are also relieved from normal job search requirements while receiving unemployment benefits. These standards will remain in effect until Gov. DeWine rescinds the Order or lifts Ohio’s state of emergency under Executive Order 2020-01D (html or pdf).
If none of the above situations apply, then an employee who refuses to return to work is unlikely to be eligible for benefits. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) previously had a form to report such refusals, which is now “under revision.” In the meantime, ODJFS instructs employers to report unemployment eligibility issues to the agency via email at UIReturntoWork@jfs.ohio.gov.
Information about COVID-19 and its impact on local, state and federal levels is changing rapidly. This article may not reflect updates to news, executive orders, legislation and regulations made after its publication date. Visit our COVID-19 resource page to find the most current information.