The coronavirus pandemic and Ohio’s resulting shelter-in-place order has caused unprecedented filings of unemployment by Ohio citizens. The impact on Ohio businesses from unemployment filings due to coronavirus cannot be understated. As non-essential businesses begin to reopen, Ohio is now asking even more of those businesses: that they report employees who quit or refuse to work when work is available.
Ohio Unemployment Benefits During the COVID-19 Emergency Period
On March 16, 2020, Governor DeWine issued an executive order that expanded the eligibility for unemployment benefits during the emergency declaration period. As a result, an individual that has been isolated or quarantined as a consequence of coronavirus at the request of a medical professional, local health authority, or employer is also eligible for unemployment benefits even if the individual is never diagnosed with COVID-19. Governor DeWine’s order also waives the work-search requirement for those same individuals. Additionally, unemployed individuals will not be required to comply with existing waiting-period requirements before receiving unemployment insurance or SharedWork benefits, which is explained below.
Employees that qualify for unemployment receive one half of their average weekly wage subject to the applicable maximum compensation amount, which is determined based on the employee’s number of dependents:
|Number of Dependents
|1 or 2 Dependents
|3 or More Dependents
Whenever possible, employers should provide employees with the pandemic mass-layoff number 2000180 in order to speed up the processing of unemployment benefits. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has also prepared a guide for employers to share with employees that are unemployed due to COVID-19 layoffs. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act provides an additional $600 per week for eligible employees that are unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
SharedWork Ohio Program
SharedWork Ohio is a voluntary layoff aversion program that allows workers to remain employed – and employers to maintain their staff – by working reduced hours. In order to participate in SharedWork Ohio, a participating employer uniformly reduces affected employees’ normal weekly hours of work by more than 10 percent but less than 50 percent. If a participating eligible employee works the reduced hours, then the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (“ODJFS”) provides unemployment insurance benefits in proportion to their reduced hours. ODJFS continues to accept SharedWork Ohio applications during the COVID-19 pandemic and has committed to reviewing and responding to those applications within one week of receipt. In order to apply, employers must (1) have at least two affected employees that are not seasonal, temporary, or intermittent employees; (2) be current on all Ohio unemployment insurance reporting, contributions, reimbursements, interest, and penalties; and (3) agree to the program requirements. Employees qualify if they (1) are eligible to receive unemployment benefits and not otherwise disqualified (such as recent termination for dishonesty), (2) have earned enough wages and worked at least 20 weeks in covered employment for an employer that paid unemployment taxes, (3) have experienced a reduction of more than 10 percent of their normal hours, and (4) have a balance remaining if they have an existing unemployment claim. For additional details, Ohio has prepared a guide for the SharedWork Ohio Program.
Impact of COVID-19 Unemployment Claims on Employers’ Unemployment Taxes
As for resulting increases in unemployment taxes, it is important to understand whether your company is a contributory employer or a reimbursing employer. Charges for contributory employers will be mutualized during Ohio’s emergency declaration period, meaning it will be charged to the mutualized account instead of directly to the employer. Reimbursing employers must continue to reimburse the State for unemployment benefits as charged, however the CARES Act provides for 50% federal reimbursement for unemployment benefits paid through then end of 2020 once the employer has paid the full amount. Penalties for late payments and reporting will be waived for any employer that has been affected by COVID-19. Ohio is also permitting employers to defer workers’ compensation insurance premium installment payments for March, April, and May until June 1.
Reporting Employees that Refuse to Return to Work
Now that businesses are beginning to reopen in the state, the ODJFS has created a “COVID-19 Fraud” page where employers “may…report employees who quit or refuse work when it is available due to COVID-19.” The form requests detailed information, including employer and employee information, whether the business was deemed “essential,” whether the work was the same work as pre-COVID-19, and whether the employer is maintaining Governor DeWine’s required safety standards. It has been reported that ODJFS notified employers that it will use the reported information to make eligibility determinations because individuals that refuse to accept offers of suitable work or leave employment without good cause are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits. ODJFS has not provided official guidance on whether such reporting is mandatory at this time or what, if any, the legal ramifications for employers may be.
Melissa Watt | Faruki Attorney, Resurgent Collaborative