Small Business Update:

Ohio Unemployment Law Update Regarding COVID-19

March 19, 2020

The attorneys at Broehl Law Office recognize employers are confronting many new challenges and questions as a result of daily press releases and orders from federal, state, and local authorities with respect to the coronavirus pandemic.

Brief Note on Federal Response

The U.S. Congress passed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” or “FFCRA,” and President Trump signed it into law on March 18, 2020. The law will go into effect in 15 days. The FFCRA requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to eligible affected employees, and it requires businesses to offer paid FMLA leave to eligible affected employees. The FFCRA also expands unemployment and nutrition assistance, and it increases resources for coronavirus testing. We will be providing a separate memo outlining the new provisions of the FFCRA in more detail.

Ohio’s Response

In Ohio, Governor DeWine issued Executive Order 2020-03D (the “Order”) on March 16, 2020, expanding access to unemployment benefits for those impacted by the coronavirus. The Order specifically makes benefits available to workers who have been laid off because of work stoppages or who have been ordered to quarantine themselves. And most notably, the Order waives the traditional waiting period for applicants so that they can receive benefits more quickly. Per the Order, benefits are evaluated as follows:

  • Employees who are partially or totally unemployed as a result of someone else’s decision are eligible for benefits. This includes:

    • Individuals quarantined per doctor’s order;

    • Individuals quarantined per employer’s instructions without the ability to work remotely; and

    • Individuals whose employer shut down or laid off workers because of the coronavirus.

  • However, individuals electing to self-quarantine are ineligible for benefits, and these benefits are not available to workers who have leave benefits from their employer.

Naturally, this raises questions for employers regarding their unemployment tax rates. At this time, “contributory employers” that pay unemployment premiums based upon a tax rate multiplied by wages will have their premiums mutualized with all other such employers, and claims will be paid out of this collective fund rather than charging against an individual employer’s account. There are some employers, usually non-profits, that are set up as “reimbursing employers,” pursuant to which they reimburse the State for benefits on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Reimbursing employers’ obligations remain unchanged by the new Order.

 

Employees laid off or quarantined can apply for unemployment benefits in two ways: (1) via telephone at 1-877-644-6562 or TTY 1-614-387-8408; or (2) by filing an application online at https://unemployment.ohio.gov/. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (“ODJFS”) also published a webpage with information related to the new coronavirus unemployment benefits at http://jfs.ohio.gov/ouio/CoronavirusAndUI.stm. Additionally, ODJFS created a “Mass Layoff Instruction Sheet,” which it asks employers to distribute to each employee laid off because of the coronavirus. This will expedite the claim process for those employees. That form can be accessed online at http://www.odjfs.state.oh.us/forms/num/JFS00671/pdf/

Governor DeWine also applied to the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to qualify the State of Ohio for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which would make low-interest loans available to small businesses.

If you have any questions regarding coronavirus-related changes to existing employment and business laws, please do not hesitate to contact us. While we have instituted health and safety measures at Broehl Law Office in accordance with federal and state guidance, including cancellation of in-person appointments, we are still actively working for our clients, and we remain available to address your needs and concerns.

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