COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Columbus Business First held a virtual forum on Tuesday to discuss employees losing unemployment benefits if they don’t return to work out of fear of COVID-19. Columbus Business First spoke with officials from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services as Gov. Mike DeWine begins gradually lifting restrictions on businesses.
Juliane Barone, the department’s benefits policy administrator and legal counsel for the Office of Unemployment Insurance Operations, suggested businesses work with their employees to ensure everyone is confident in the preventative measures, but ultimately “fear in and of itself isn’t a valid reason to remain on this unemployment insurance program.”
“It’s a difficult message, but it’s not a new message,” she said. “This process has been in law and in policy since far before the pandemic. … You’re not unemployed if you have the opportunity to go back to your job and you’re choosing not to do so.”
ODJFS’ website has an anti-fraud page for employers to report workers who have quit or refuse to work because of COVID-19 fears. Once it gets a complaint, it will investigate on a case-by-case basis, Barone said.