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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Ohio Employers Can Now Report Workers Who Refuse To Return For Reopening

A nearly empty parking lot at a shopping area on the northeast side of Columbus in April 2020.
Daniel Konik
A nearly empty parking lot at a shopping area on the northeast side of Columbus in April 2020.

The state has paid out more than $1.7 billion to over a half a million jobless Ohioans in the last seven weeks. And while 85 percent of claims have either been paid or denied, there are still reports of people having trouble filing claims via the web or over the phone.

But there another section of the state’s unemployment website that’s starting to get attention – a page where employers who are reopening can report workers who say they won’t go back.

The page is labeled as “report COVID-19 employee fraud”. It's a form by which employers can document when an employee quit or refused to come back to work, whether their job was the same as it was pre-COVID-19, and whether the employer does "maintain the safety standards that are required by the Ohio Governor's Office".

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Hall said while that's labeled as a COVID-19 issue, this is part of a longstanding process.

“We’ve always had at ODJFS a policy around how we handle when individuals who are receiving unemployment benefits turn down a viable offer for work, so this is not a new policy or approach," Hall said.

And she said fear of getting the virus isn’t a valid reason: “That would not be sufficient. The analysis would need to be that your work environment, the conditions there are such that you’re at risk from a health and safety standard.”

Hall said employees can appeal.

And those who think their employers aren’t following the state’s COVID-19 rules can report them to their local health department. There's a link on theOhio Department of Health's website.

The state is also still working on its system to pay 1099, self-employed workers and independent contractors. Hall said 185,000 people havepre-registered to set up their accounts, so they'll be ready when the system is up and running. But since that system is still being built, that's not expected until mid-May.

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau

Contact Karen at 614/578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.