Update for Ohio Employers During the 2020 COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic
Rev. March 23, 2020
Ohio businesses are adapting to the quick developments in governmental and legal guidance issued during the current stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This summary is meant to give employers practical guidance with regard to developments in current law and discussions in current best practices.
Ohio Stay At Home Order. The Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Amy Acton, issued an order that all persons in the state stay at home unless engaged in Essential Activities, Essential Governmental Functions ,or to participate in Essential Businesses and Operations. The Order is effective Tuesday, March 24, 2020. A copy of the Order is attached.
The Order is a broad order for Ohioans to stay home, avoid travel and congregating, and not to go to work, except as provided in the Order, to slow or limit the spread of COVID-19, which has begun spreading exponentially in the US.
Employers should first note that the Order separates businesses into Essential and Non-Essential Businesses.
Nonessential Businesses. Nonessential Businesses must reduce operations to the bare minimum necessary to preserve the value of its physical assets and employee administration, and to allow all employees to work from home (called Minimum Basic Operations in the Order). All businesses are nonessential, unless they fall under one of the categories included in the description of Essential Businesses and Operations.
Essential Businesses and Operations. Essential Businesses and Operations are defined relatively leniently, intended to allow much of the state’s commercial interaction while maintaining the social distancing and hygiene measures necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Order retains previously issued orders, such as limitation of restaurants to carry out only, and the prohibition on personal service businesses such as salons and tattoo parlors.
All Essential Businesses and Operations are permitted to stay open provided they comply with the Social Distancing Requirements (section 15) and the COVID-19 Information and Checklist for Businesses/Employers (section 18). These requirements are at the heart of the Order, which is issued expressly to slow and limit the explosive spread of COVID-19 in the coming days.
Employers should read the Order to understand whether they may be considered Essential Businesses. The permitted categories range across a broad spectrum of industries – some obvious, others less so. Although the Order empowers local departments of health and law enforcement to enforce the provisions of the Order, business owners are responsible for making the initial classification and ensuring own compliance with the social distancing and hygiene provisions. Many business owners will find they are able to stay open, but many will determine that they are not essential businesses, or may decide that they are unable to maintain operations and comply with the social distancing and hygiene rules.
Stay At Home Order and Other Benefits
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act – the federal paid leave act expected to be effective by April 2, 2020 – provides paid sick leave for employees unable to work because “the employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.” Employees who are directly ordered to stay home are clearly covered. Because the Stay Home Order is essentially an isolation order, and employees whose employers are not essential businesses, or who are unable to comply with the social distancing and hygiene rules, are not able to work due to the Order, those employees would arguably be eligible for paid leave.
Layoffs and Furloughs. ODJFS has relaxed rules and waiting periods for pandemic-related unemployment. In addition, Gov. DeWine’s Executive Order 2020-03, March 20, 2020 requires insurers to maintain coverage even if an employee’s hours drops to a point that would make the employee ineligible under the plan. (This health insurance order also provides a grace period of 60 days for premiums.) The combination of the unemployment and insurance modifications gives employers suffering economic or operational hardship due to the pandemic some new options, such as reducing an employees’ hours to zero while maintaining health coverage – an option that would not have been available to private employers before these new rules.