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Ohio’s COVID-19 Updates for Employers

E-mployment Alert

Smart Summary

  • As of Thursday, July 23rd at 6:00 p.m., all Ohioans are required to wear masks in public unless they meet a specific exception.
  • Governor DeWine’s travel advisory does not impose any new requirements on employers, but you can create your own travel policy requiring employees to self-quarantine after travel outside the state.
  • Governor DeWine joined governors from 20 other states to advocate for increased employer protections and limits on liability associated with the spread of coronavirus.
  • Enhanced federal unemployment benefits are set to expire at the end of the month. For many, they will actually terminate this week unless the government passes a heavily-anticipated extension of the CARES Act.

On Wednesday, Governor DeWine held a press conference where he unveiled a number of new measures being implemented to combat the increasing spread of COVID-19. Here are the most relevant new topics for employers.

1. Mask Order

As of Thursday at 6:00 pm, all Ohioans are now required to wear a mask in public. If you reviewed the Department of Health’s prior Order requiring facial coverings in certain high-risk counties, you likely won’t be surprised by the contents of the new Order.

Now, masks are required in all counties in any indoor location that is not a residence (e.g. retail stores and places of work) and outdoors if six-feet in distance isn’t possible. The only exceptions to this requirement are as follows:

  • Children under 10
  • Religious officiants
  • Broadcast communications workers or participants
  • Public safety workers (e.g. law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS)
  • Those employed in an industrial or manufacturing facility where employees are six feet apart or separated by barriers
  • Those with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that would make wearing a mask inadvisable
  • When eating or drinking
  • When communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or has another disability where seeing the mouth is essential for communication
  • When alone in an enclosed space (e.g. personal office)
  • When exercising or playing sports
  • Where otherwise prohibited by law, documented industry standards, and/or documented safety policies

Schools and child care centers may also be excepted if they comply with their own industry-specific guidelines.

Employers should ensure that all employees and customers comply with the mask requirement when entering the office or retail establishment. If a person is not wearing a mask, you may approach and ask if they meet an exception outlined above. While enforcement and required documentary support is not clarified in the Order, we’ve received reports that Department of Health agents are asking businesses to request evidence if an individual claims that they cannot wear a mask for medical, mental health, or disability reasons. In these situations, you can ask if any supporting documentation is on hand, but if not, you have no additional requirements. If an individual does not meet one of the exceptions above and still refuses to wear a mask, you may ask them to leave.

2. Travel Advisory

The Governor also announced a travel advisory. The advisory recommends that individuals coming into Ohio from states reporting positive testing rates of 15% or higher self-quarantine for a period of 14 days.

The advisory is just that; it is not an order or requirement. Under the advisory, the onus to make quarantine decisions rests with the traveling employee. However, you may implement your own policy covering employees returning from travel outside the state. In one of our first articles at the start of the pandemic, we addressed options for travel restrictions and quarantine periods following vacations. Keep in mind that now, with the passage of the FFCRA, employees may be entitled to paid leave for quarantine periods. Thus, to avoid extended employee absences, you may want to make telework available, at least in certain situations.

3. Federal Limited Liability

Lt. Governor Husted announced that Governor DeWine joined a petition to limit liability and provide protections for businesses who have reopened during the pandemic. The petition calls for liability protections to shield employers from the legal risks associated with the spread of coronavirus where they are following applicable government guidelines and standards of care. We will keep you updated as this topic develops.

4. Unemployment

While not addressed in the Governor’s briefing, unemployment benefits have been a hot topic in the news as the July 31st expiration date quickly approaches. Under the CARES Act, the $600 per week federal supplement is set to expire on July 31st. For many individuals receiving unemployment, the benefit will actually terminate this week due to a technicality in how benefits are calculated.

Government officials are said to be considering a short-term extension to provide relief to the 17 million Americans who remain out of work until a new stimulus package can be negotiated. But so far, nothing has been made official.  

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