LIMA — Throughout the reopening of Ohio businesses, employees without a valid health excuse are expected to return to work. However, all parties involved realize it’s not that cut and dried.
Those with underlying health conditions, those who are caring for someone at risk or even just those who don’t have access to childcare while they return to work have no concrete answers yet. Workers are simply being advised to communicate their specific concerns and circumstances to their employers. Likewise, employers are being directed to be open to those conversations.
“As we go through this, we know people are going to be differently situated,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted in Friday’s press conference. “It’s not a hard and fast rule, but if your job is offered to you, you’re supposed to go back to work. There are exemptions for that but to the spirit of we’re all in this together, we’ve talked to employers, we’ve asked them to recognize that this is a transition period.”
During the transitions, businesses are being asked by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to report any employees who refuse to return to work or have quit, which would make that individual ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Director Kimberly Hall emphasized in a press conference Monday that ODJFS has not yet seen an “uptick or immediate response” in reports of those refusing to work, but acknowledged the state is still in the early stages of reopening industries.
“We’ve always had policies around how to handle when individuals who are receiving unemployment benefits turns down a viable offer for work,” Hall explained. “The challenge we have now is that we have such a large number who have been off and may refuse to return to work.”
Employees who have expressed concerns with employers and feel their situation is unresolved are encouraged to reach out to their local health department, not the unemployment office.
“The concern about a particular employer’s practices or the concern about safety environment needs to be routed through the local health department,” Hall said. “When there is a refusal to return to work issue that must be adjudicated when a person is receiving unemployment benefits, that comes through JFS where there is an opportunity part of the administrative process for an employee to respond.”
Mike Copeland, local UAW president at Lima Ford Engine Plant, said he has heard a mix of those eager to get back to work and those still hesitant.
“It’s probably split right down the middle,” he said.
Ford released a “Return to Work Manufacturing Playbook” outlining its plan that includes increased sanitization, temperature scanning and how to handle breaks, shift separation or other high-traffic instances.
Copeland said the Lima plant has plans to reopen beginning May 18, phasing in teams and shifts over a few weeks. He said he has little concern for employee safety as Ford works its way back.
“I think they’re going to be held to such a high standard when coming back because there’s so much attention on Ford and their involvement in the response plan during the last two to three months,” he said.
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.