COLUMBUS (WCMH) — As employees begin to head back to work, legal experts are weighing in on their rights.

More than 1 million Ohioans have filed unemployment claims within the last two months, according to the Ohio Department of Job Family Services.

Now, many employers are asking their staff members to return to work.

Susan Choe, the executive director of Ohio Legal Help, said some individuals are wondering if they have to return to work despite feeling unsafe if they were to do so.

“I think that’s an individual’s decision,” she explained.

Choe said that if an employee is receiving unemployment benefits and they are offered their job back, they may lose those benefits if they reject the offer.

“That’s the way the law is set up,” she said. “You are at risk of losing your unemployment if you refuse work that is offered. You have to have a just cause, or a good cause to not return.”

If employees feel their employers have not instituted proper safeguards, especially those mandated by the state’s reopening guidelines, Choe recommends addressing those concerns with management or their company’s human resources department.

“At that point, if they are not addressing your safety concerns and if you decide not to return – this is where the law comes into play – you have to have good cause and just cause in order to continue to get your unemployment, so you would have to show the state of Ohio that a reasonable person, in your situation, would have made essentially the same decision,” she said.

If an employer qualified for a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Plan, they are required to maintain the same number of employees they had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Failure to do so could lead to the government not forgiving the loan.

As a result, employees who do not return to work could be terminated.

“In the event that you have a full-time employee that’s refusing to come to work, those employers need to make a decision as to whether or not that employee is with the company so they can rehire to maintain their headcount,” said Sean Kohl, a partner at the Kohl and Cook Law Firm.

On Tuesday, consumer and retail services can reopen in Ohio. On Friday, outdoor dining and personal care services can reopen.

Ohio Legal Help has a number of resources available, as the state reopens. To access those, click here.

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