In a June 16 executive order, Gov. Mike DeWine determined that certain Ohioans called back to the same jobs they’d had before the coronavirus crisis should get a “good cause” presumption if they refuse to return to work because of legitimate COVID-related concerns.
The five exceptions DeWine listed that would qualify folks for this presumption are:
- A medical professional has determined the person is “high-risk” for contracting COVID-19 per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and telework options aren’t available.
- The worker is 65 or older.
- There is “tangible evidence” of a health/safety violation by the employer that will not allow the employee to practice safe social distancing, hygiene and with personal protective equipment.
- The person is subject to a quarantine prescribed by a health professional because of potential COVID exposure.
- The person is staying home to care for a family member who is subject to such a quarantine or has COVID-19.
Many applauded these exceptions as important safeguards, but are they enough? Some advocates for low-wage workers such as Policy Matters Ohio and the Ohio Poverty Law Center questioned the phrasing “tangible evidence,” which is not otherwise defined in the order, and said it seems to improperly put the burden of proof on the employee not the employer. The two groups also argued, as noted in a June 19 article by Jeremy Pelzer, that the state needed to do more to determine which employers were violating back-to-work safety orders.
Notably, the exceptions exclude lack of child care as a legitimate good-cause presumption. Yet, adequate child care at pre-coronavirus levels remains a big gap in the state’s reopening game plan, along with no assurance that local public schools will reopen in a way that will allow most children to return to school for the usual hours.
The order also is likely to put additional burdens on a jobless benefits system that remains overwhelmed and recently went broke, taking out a more than $3 billion federal loan to keep paying benefits. Pelzer notes that more than 1 in every 10 Ohioans has applied for jobless benefits and that the state is trying to claw back benefits improperly paid to 24,000 recipients.
So should DeWine’s order have factored lack of child care into its good-cause presumptions for impacted families? Is the order too vague, overly generous, or not generous enough?
What could be done to improve it? Our Editorial Board Roundtable weighs in.
Ted Diadiun, columnist:
This is like talking to people after a divorce: Both sides typically feel like they got hosed. With the federal government’s $600-a-week bonus, many have made more on the dole than they did working. That’s not fair. But it’s also not fair to force people who can’t get child care because of the coronavirus off unemployment compensation. King Solomon, where are you?
Thomas Suddes, editorial writer:
Unless “lack of child care” is added as an allowable exception, these criteria — in the main, reasonable — don’t address a critical challenge faced by working Ohioans.
Eric Foster, columnist:
DeWine should eliminate the word “tangible” and just accept evidence of a violation. He knows that county boards of health are ill-equipped to inspect every open business for violations. Due to that, he should err on the side of the employee when they allege violations. An additional exception should be where child care in one’s area is inadequate.
Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:
With a large percentage of workers making more money on unemployment, the possibility of fraud is significant. If someone refuses to return to work, the burden of proof falls on them. However, employers must prove they are providing a safe workspace to avoid discriminating against at-risk workers. My advice for employees in these unprecedented times? Document everything.
Victor Ruiz, editorial board member:
I‘ve been impressed with Gov. DeWine during this process. However, this order’s vagueness is not helpful to either the individual or the employer. Requirements such as “tangible evidence” and “potential exposure” are subject to interpretation and will be inconsistently applied. I encourage the governor, whose approval ratings are overwhelmingly positive, to be assertive and direct, as he has been in the past.
Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:
While these benefits aren’t indefinitely sustainable, Gov. DeWine is right to extend them temporarily for workers most at-risk from coronavirus or those caring for afflicted family members. Extending coverage for lack of child care shouldn’t be necessary. Although existing day cares cannot operate at full capacity, in a free market, new day care providers will inevitably rise to meet the increased demand.
Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion:
Gov. DeWine was wise to spell out these exceptions, but he needs to perfect the wording to avoid lengthy legal disputes. And a second order is needed tied to lack of child care; parents and guardians who can’t go back to their jobs because child care is unavailable are especially in need of continued jobless benefits.
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