Districts should expect to see a rise in unemployment claims due to the current pandemic. Ohio received 187,000 claims during the week of March 15-21. Substitutes, in particular, are likely to make claims during this time.
Governor DeWine has issued an order (EO 2020-03D) to ease the process of obtaining unemployment benefits. Employees who are ordered to stay home or isolated by an employer or public health authority, whether infected or not, will qualify for benefits so long as the employee is otherwise eligible. The basic requirements for eligibility for benefits are that a claimant has worked a sufficient number of hours and has earned a sufficient amount of pay during a period referred to as the “base period.” The base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters at the time the claim is filed. (Claims filed in March would be calculated on the four quarters beginning October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2019.) Individuals must have at least 20 weeks of employment and an average weekly wage of $269 during the base period of the claim.
ODJFS issued a mass-layoff number (2000180) that employees can use to expedite the handling of their claim. Employees subject to RIF due to COVID-19 can use this form and reference number. http://www.odjfs.state.oh.us/forms/num/JFS00671/pdf/.
Substitute employees may file claims for lack of work due to the ordered shutdown of the school to students. Outside of the context of a shutdown, districts may attempt to challenge lack of work claims by substitutes, due to the nature of the assignment not having guaranteed hours or days of work per year. Many substitutes pick and choose their own assignments. Those arguments will not be applicable, where, as here, there are no assignments for the substitute to choose from. Therefore, such employees are much more likely to receive benefits under these circumstances.
Additional benefits of the order are that certain benefit recipients will not be subject to the work search requirement during the period of the emergency. All claimants, however, will continue to be required to be “able and available for work,” in order to receive benefits.
Finally, penalties against employers for failing to provide reports or make payments during the emergency declaration period.
The merits of each claim are fact dependent and may be subject to challenge even in light of the order. Please do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Ennis Britton to discuss your particular claim.
Many public employers are considering staffing adjustments in light of the coronavirus and its impact on available work. For those employees not covered under contracts that must be paid in the case of an “epidemic or other public calamity” pursuant to RC 3319.08(B) and 3319.081(G), layoffs are being contemplated. In order to have all the information on the financial impact of such a decision, the public employer should consider whether it is a “contributory employer” or a “reimbursing employer.”
Generally speaking, public employers are reimbursing employers. Essentially, reimbursing employers are self-insured and will be billed dollar-for-dollar by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services for claims paid. Public entity employers who have elected to become a contributory employer have paid unemployment tax. Contributory employers will have their claims mutualized with other employers in the state and will not have to reimburse on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Determining if the public entity is a contributory employer or a reimbursing employer will be necessary to determine how much will be saved via staffing reductions.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and
Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) provides that reimbursing employers may
be reimbursed for one-half of the amounts paid into a state unemployment trust
fund between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020.
If you have any questions regarding unemployment compensation issues, please reach out to any of the Ennis Britton lawyers.
The long-running Doe v. Ohio Department of Education litigation was back in the news earlier this month. The settlement became final and effective nearly three decades after the lawsuit was initially filed. Ennis Britton previously notified clients of the proposed settlement in December when the Ohio Department of Education’s Chief Legal Counsel sent a notice to districts that a proposed settlement has been reached. To be clear, no individual school district was a defendant in this case. Defendants included the State of Ohio, the Governor, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Ohio Department of Education. The plaintiffs – parents of students with disabilities and the students themselves – alleged that the defendants failed to ensure that students with disabilities were adequately educated in compliance with the law.
A hearing was held on February 11, 2020, to determine whether final approval would be given to the proposed settlement that circulated in December 2019. The settlement has been approved and took effect earlier this month. The settlement covers a five year period and will focus on eleven priority districts (Canton City, Cleveland Metropolitan, Columbus City, Cincinnati Public, Toledo Public, Dayton Public, Akron Public, Youngstown City, Lima City, Zanesville City, and East Cleveland City School Districts). During the settlement period, ODE will develop a plan to improve inclusion and outcomes and will implement and monitor the implementation of the plan in the priority districts.
Ennis Britton’s Special Education Team anticipates it is very likely that ideas and expectations from the plan for the eleven priority districts will have broader application in the long run. Thus, even districts that are not initially prioritized by the settlement are likely to feel the effects of the settlement. It will be important for all school districts to monitor the implementation of the settlement and to advocate for both reasonable expectations and appropriate additional funding to support whatever aspects of the settlement plan are given broader application to all of Ohio’s school districts.
Ennis Britton’s Special Education Team will continue to update our clients on the implementation of the Doe settlement.
The pandemic has resulted in the enactment of emergency federal legislation providing additional the amendments are part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), and the FMLA expansion portion is called the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. Additional provisions of the law that provide employer-paid sick leave are called the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act.
These laws take effect fifteen days from the enactment of the law (March 18), which will be April 1st. Both of these provisions will be temporary, ending on December 31, 2020.
FMLA Leave Expansion
To be eligible for this type of FMLA leave, employees must have been employed only for thirty days (not the usual eligibility criteria of 1,250 hours in the preceding year). The thirty days mean on the payroll for the 30 calendar days immediately prior to when the leave would begin.
Reasons for Leave
1. If a child’s school or place of care is closed, or the
child care provider is not available, and the employee is unable to
work or telework because they must care for the minor
child, the employee may use leave.
Pay for leave after first ten days
The first ten days of this FMLA leave is unpaid, although the employee may elect to substitute vacation, sick, personal or medical leave for unpaid leave. They also may use the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act described below. After that, the leave will be paid for up to twelve weeks.
After the first ten days, employees are to be paid at a rate of 2/3rds their regular rate of pay for the number of hours they normally work. The amount of pay for this sick leave is capped at not more than $200 per day, and continues up to a maximum of $12,000 (this is for the entire 12-week period, including the two weeks of leave which may be the emergency paid sick leave provided in the Act.
There is an averaging process provided in the law to determine the amount to be paid to an employee who works a varying number of hours.
Employers may require documentation in support of expanded family medical leave just as you would for other FMLA requests.
The expanded FMLA leave for child care does not require that employers permit the leave to be taken intermittently. However, if the employer agrees to do so, the leave may be taken intermittently.
Employers must maintain health insurance during the period of expanded FMLA leave for child care.
Right of restoration
Employers must restore the employee to an equivalent position unless the position has been eliminated or reduced due to economic reasons or other operating conditions that affect employment as a result of the public health emergency.
An “equivalent position” is one that provides equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment. If the efforts of the employer to do so are unsuccessful, employers must contact them if such a position does become available for a period of one year.
Paid Sick Leave
Another part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. This leave applies to school districts and, like the expanded FMLA provisions, it expires December 31, 2020.
Employers must immediately provide, as needed, eighty hours of paid sick leave to full time employees (regardless of the length of their employment) or an average of hours worked over a two-week period for part-time employees who meet the following criteria:
- Unable to work (or telework) due to an isolation or quarantine order related to COVID-19 (federal, state or local order);
- Has been ordered by a health care professional to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
- The employee is seeking medical diagnosis and is having symptoms of COVID-19;
- The employee is caring for an individual (law does not specify that it has to be a family member) subject to such an order
- The employee’s child’s school or place of care is closed or child care provider is unavailable (same reason as FMLA expansion), or
- The employee is experiencing any substantially similar condition as identified by the Secretary of Labor or Treasury.
For the first three conditions, hourly pay is the greater of the employee’s regular rate of pay, the federal minimum wage, or local/state minimum wage. This is subject to a maximum of $511/day, up to $5,110 for the entire paid emergency sick leave period.
For the conditions from 4-6 on the list, pay is capped at 2/3 of the greater of the amounts listed above. This is subject to a maximum of $200 per day, up to $2,000 over the two week period.
The leave is subject to a few conditions, including that:
- The employee may not be required to find another employee to cover the hours they are using for sick time.
- The employee may be required to return to work at the next scheduled shift after the need for sick leave ends.
- The leave does not carry over from one year to the next.
- The employer also may not require use of other paid leaves before using this emergency sick leave.
This leave is limited to two weeks for any combination of the reasons listed above. The leave is not retroactive (prior to April 1, the effective date) and the employee may still use the leave even if the employer gave the employee paid leave for similar reasons prior to April 1, 2020.
Employers must post a notice of the availability of this sick leave. This notice is available at:
Violation of the provisions of the emergency paid sick time would be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act for failure to provide minimum wage and subject to the penalties of the FLSA.
More changes and new provisions are possible as lawmakers and federal and state agencies respond to this situation. There are issues of interpretation with this new law that may be dealt with in additional legislation, future regulations, or a FAQ from the Wage and Hour Division.
This article will be updated to reflect changes in these particular provisions as needed.
As we continue to receive updates and navigate the changing circumstances day-to-day, we would like to brief you about some of the questions we have been receiving from schools around the State:
Can we continue to pay hourly staff members if on extended closure?
R.C. 3319.081 provides that “All nonteaching employees…shall be paid for all time lost when the schools in which they are employed are closed owing to an epidemic or other public calamity. Nothing in this division shall be construed as requiring payment in excess of an employee’s regular wage rate or salary for any time worked while the school in which the employee is employed is officially closed for the reasons set forth in this division.”
Accordingly, those non-teaching employees covered by R.C. 3319.081 can and should be paid for “all time lost due to the closure of school” under the current circumstances.
R.C. 3319.08 provides the same rights for teaching employees. Keep in mind that neither statute provides a premium rate of pay. Only regular wages are required by the statutes. However, some collective bargaining agreements provide for premium pay for work performed during “calamity days.” Unions are likely to assert that premium pay should be provided for employees who report to work during the time that the schools are closed to students. You should consult with legal counsel about how to proceed if the union demands premium pay.
Can I require self-reporting of staff?
You can request staff self-report if they are ill, under self-quarantine, or mandated quarantine.
Employers must generally be careful in inquiring about medical conditions of employees. The ADA prohibits employee disability-related inquiries or medical examinations unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. One condition under which an employer may ask such questions is where the employee constitutes a “direct threat” to the health and safety of other employees. A “direct threat” is “a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC has previously opined during the H1/N1 pandemic that where the CDC or state or local public health authorities determine that the illness is like seasonal influenza or the 2009 spring/summer H1N1 influenza, it would not pose a direct threat or justify disability-related inquiries (e.g., Do you have a compromised immune system?) and medical examinations (e.g., temperature readings). However, if the CDC or state or local health authorities determine that pandemic influenza is significantly more severe, it could pose a direct threat. COVID-19 appears to be more severe than previous influenza pandemics and outbreaks both in terms of the rate of infection and the number of deaths and critical cases. Therefore, you are permitted to make inquiries about symptoms and susceptibility and to require self-reporting of employees.
Can I require self-reporting of students?
Since students have been ordered home, it is likely not necessary to issue a directive to families at this time.
Can employees use sick leave if self-quarantined?
It is understandable that employees would request sick leave while under self-quarantine. The sick leave statute, R.C. 3319.141, provides that employees “may use sick leave for absence due to personal illness, pregnancy, injury, exposure to contagious disease which could be communicated to others, and for absence due to illness, injury, or death in the employee’s immediate family.” A strict reading of the statute could be interpreted to mean that the employee was actually exposed, and not just avoiding the possibility of being exposed. Therefore, sick leave could be denied to an employee who has not actually been exposed to the disease. Also note that FMLA is not available for employees who fear being exposed to a virus, as such fear does not constitute a serious health condition.
Additionally, employees not reporting to work due to the closure to students will receive pay for all time lost due to the closure as discussed above. Such employees would not need sick leave.
Employers are permitted to be more generous than the law permits so there is a basis to allow the use of sick leave in these circumstances. You should check your policy manual and the collective bargaining agreement to see if there is any language that differs from the statute. It is not clear whether the auditor follows a strict reading of the statute due to the unique nature of this situation. If you wish to grant sick leave for employees who wish to stay home as a matter of self-quarantine who are otherwise not exhibiting any symptoms, you should discuss it with your legal counsel before proceeding.
Can I discourage international travel … or ask about international travel?
You can both inquire about and discourage international travel, but any directives regarding those matters would not necessarily have a lot of weight from an enforcement standpoint. You can also inquire with families of whom you know have traveled internationally recently. However, in light of the closure of school to students, and its potential extension to the end of the school year, this is likely not necessary in most circumstances.
Employees returning from international travel may be subjected to mandatory quarantine. Under these circumstances, sick leave would be appropriate.
Can I restrict an employee who appears sick/has a fever or wants to wear a mask? I have an employee with a weak immune system, can they wear a mask?
R.C. 3313.71 provides the authority to send home an employee or student who is suffering from a communicable disease. The statute provides that the school physician is to order such employees to be sent home. There are not any court interpretations determining whether it must be a “school physician” which makes the call. However, the Board has the authority to protect the health and safety of persons coming on to its premises and can, therefore, exercise such authority in these circumstances. Employees should be permitted, within reason, to wear appropriate safety equipment such as masks and gloves if they desire to. You should not send an employee home simply because the employee wishes to wear a mask or because an employee is of an age that is more susceptible to the disease.
Keep in mind that discrimination laws regarding ADA accommodations are still in effect during this time. During a pandemic, especially one which constitutes a direct threat, as COVID-19 likely does, certain ADA protections are relaxed in order to balance public health and safety with individual rights.
During a pandemic such as this one, employers may:
- Send employees home if they display influenza-like symptoms;
- Inquire about the exact symptoms an employee is experiencing who reports feeling ill;
- Check employees’ temperatures (keep in mind that some people infected with COVID-19 may not have a fever);
- Inquire about potential exposure to persons returning from business or personal travel;
- If the employer has sufficient objective information from public health authorities to conclude that employees will face a direct threat if they contract COVID-19, the employer may ask an employee, without having exhibited any symptoms, whether the employee has a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable to influenza complications;
- Encourage remote working (where possible) as a prevention strategy; and
- Require the adoption of infection control practices at work including hand washing, handling practices, and wearing masks and gloves.
Remember that other ADA requirements are still in place. Accommodations that are already being provided unrelated to the pandemic must continue. For example, An accountant with low vision has a screen-reader on her office computer as a reasonable accommodation. In preparation for telework during a pandemic or other emergency event, the employer issues notebook computers to all similar employees. In accordance with the ADA, the employer must provide the employee with a notebook computer that has a screen-reader installed.