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Coronavirus Updates 3/16/2020

This was an eventful weekend as both Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine and the federal government announced additional measures to protect public welfare and safety.  We have summarized some key points below.

OHIO:

ENHANCED UNEMPLOYMENT AID FOR OHIOANS:

On Sunday, March 15, 2020, the Governor announced plans to issue an executive order which will grant the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) the authority to accept and grant requests for unemployment compensation suspending the normal 1-week waiting period.

This order will also give relief to applicants who are not offered paid leave through their job, as well as those who have been quarantined by a medical professional, their employer, or whose employers must temporarily close. Those who apply for unemployment under these circumstances will be exempt from the requirement that they be actively seeking work.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has posted a list of Questions and Answers to assist employers and employees on their website.   The Q&A is republished below, and a link to the ODJFS website may be found HERE.

Question 1: Will workers qualify for unemployment benefits if the coronavirus (COVID-19) causes an employer to shut down operations?

Answer: An executive order issued by Governor DeWine expands flexibility for Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits during Ohio's emergency declaration period. Unemployment benefits will be available for eligible individuals who are requested by a medical professional, local health authority, or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19, even if they are not actually diagnosed with COVID-19. In addition, the waiting period for eligible Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits will be waived.

Question 2: If an employer lays off employees due to the loss of production caused by the coronavirus, will the employees be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

Answer: Yes, if the employees are otherwise eligible. An executive order issued by Governor DeWine expands flexibility for Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits during Ohio's emergency declaration period.

Question 3: If an employee receives unemployment benefits as a result of a coronavirus-related business shutdown, will the employer's unemployment taxes increase?

Answer: For contributory employers, charges during Ohio's emergency declaration period will be mutualized. Reimbursing employers will follow existing charging requirements under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4141.

Question 4: If an employee receives unemployment benefits as a result of a coronavirus-related business shutdown, can the benefits be charged to the mutual account?

Answer: Yes, an executive order issued by Governor DeWine allows unemployment benefit charges to be mutualized for contributory employers. In addition, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will waive penalties for late reporting and payments during Ohio's emergency declaration period.

Question 5: If an asymptomatic employee imposes a self-quarantine because of the coronavirus, will they be eligible for unemployment benefits?

Answer: In most cases, no. Unemployment benefits are available to individuals who are totally or partially unemployed due to no fault of their own. In this example, the individual-not the employer-is choosing not to work and, therefore, would be ineligible. However, the facts of each circumstance are important. If the employer allowed this individual to telework, they would not qualify for benefits because they would not be unemployed. If the employer required the individual to stay home but did not offer telework, the individual might be eligible for benefits if they met the monetary and weekly eligibility criteria.

Question 6: If an employee is in mandatory quarantine because of suspicion of having the coronavirus, will they be eligible for unemployment benefits?

Answer: Yes, an executive order issued by Governor DeWine states that employees who are quarantined are considered to be unemployed.

Question 7: If the coronavirus creates a situation that causes an employer to submit quarterly reports and/or payments late, will the filing deadline be extended?

Answer: Yes, an executive order issued by Governor DeWine waives penalties for late reporting and payments during Ohio's emergency declaration period.

FEDERAL UPDATES

H.R. 6201 Passed by the US House of Representatives

On Friday, March 13, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to provide economic relief to Americans affected by the Coronavirus.  H.R. 6201, The Families First Coronavirus Response Act would provide individuals affected by the Coronavirus paid leave, food assistance, and unemployment insurance.  Additionally, Medicaid funding to states would be increased under the House-passed version of H.R. 6201. The bill was adopted 363-40 with every Democrat and most Republicans voting in favor.  The bill now heads to the Senate, which is expected to vote today.  President Trump has indicated support of the legislation. 

Federal Reserve Reduces Key Interest Rates to 0-0.25%

The Federal Reserve announced on Sunday, March 15 that it would cut its target interest rates to a range of 0 to 0.25 percent.  The new fed funds rate, used as a benchmark both for short-term lending for financial institutions and as a peg to many consumer rates, will now be targeted at 0% to 0.25% down from a previous target range of 1% to 1.25%.

CDC Issues New Recommendations for Large Gatherings

As of March 15, 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending “that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.

Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing.  When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”

You can find more information from the CDC’s website HERE.

As information becomes available, OADA will provide on-going updates.  We will continue to offer resources to our members on subjects such as Labor and Employment, OSHA, and tax considerations.  For an updated link to the Comprehensive And Updated FAQs For Employers On The COVID-19 Coronavirus  provided by Fisher Philips, click HERE.

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