A. Mass Layoff Number: If you are out of work due to COVID-19, you should use Mass Layoff Number #2000180 when applying for benefits. Instructions on how to use the Mass Layoff Number can be found here and an ODJFS application guide can be found here.
B. Viewing Correspondence and Determinations: Ohio's online unemployment system continues to have problems due to the high number of new claims. People are receiving notices they they are not able to open until about seven days later. Some of these notices, such as Notices of Required Action, expire before they can ever be opened.
Determination Letters will not expire and provide for 21 days to appeal. Determinations explain whether a person is approved or denied and give reasons why. It is frustrating to see that a Determination was issued denying benefits and to be unable to open the Determination Letter to see why; however, it is best to wait until the Determination Letter can be viewed before appealing so the full reasons for the Determination can be evaluated and responded to. Deadlines should never be missed, but there should be ample opportunity to appeal after the Determination Letter can be viewed. Ohio has provided this FAQ that discusses this an other COVID-19 unemployment issues.
C. Ohio Executive Order Expanding Unemployment Benefits: The Ohio Governor issued an executive order making it easier for people affected by coronavirus to obtain unemployment benefits and there may be further changes to come. Updates regarding these changes can be found here: http://jfs.ohio.gov/ouio/CoronavirusAndUI.stm Here is what the Executive Order says for claimants:
- Unemployed workers will include individuals requested by a medical professional, local health authority, or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19 even if not actually diagnosed with COVID-19; and
- Individuals totally or partially unemployed, or who are participating in the SharedWork Ohio Program will not be required to serve a waiting period before receiving unemployment insurance or SharedWork benefits; and
- Waiver of work search requirements shall include those individuals requested by a medical professional, local health authority or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19 even if not actually diagnosed with COV-19
D. Should you apply through the regular unemployment system or the PUA system?: This can be one of the most confusing questions. The PUA system is primarily for those people who did not meet the monetary requirements for regular unemployment (e.g., self employed, independent contractors, part-time workers), though it is also for people who meet one of the reasons for expanded benefits described below. The regular unemployment system is primarily for those who do meet the monetary requirements and are unemployed through no fault of their own (e.g., laid off, fired, resigned with just cause).
Many times people should qualify through the PUA system; however, because the system shows they might be monetarily eligible for regular unemployment it will kick them out of the system without providing any appeal rights as the law requires it to do. Such people may need to apply through the regular system first, receive a denial, and have the appeal deadlines expire before they can go back to the PUA system to apply.
Here is an info-graphic from ODJFS directing people to which system they should apply through.
E. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded unemployment benefits. Claimants can now apply for PUA benefits here. A step-by-step guide for apply for PUA benefits can be found here. Here is a link that describes some of the PUA benefits and their status. Here is a link to guidance from the Department of Labor. Hear is a link with DOL guidance regarding the Continued Assistance Act. Here is a link from ODJFS regarding the Continued Assistance Act. Here is a a link from ODJFS regarding the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The changes include:
- American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: This act has extended benefits through September 4, 2021, including extending additional weeks of traditional unemployment extensions from 24 weeks to up to 53 weeks and additional weeks of PUA from 50 weeks to up to 79 weeks. Additionally, beginning for tax year 2020, individuals who legitimately received unemployment benefits will not be taxed federally for the first $10,200 in benefits.
- Backdating: While claimants have been able to backdate their PUA claims, the Continued Assistance Act provides that first applications for PUA that are filed after December 27, 2020 may not be backdated earlier than December 1, 2020.
However, people who originally filed a regular UC claim and were denied may backdate their PUA claim to when they originally applied for regular unemployment. DOL Program Letter 16-20 Change 4 explains: "If an individual filed a regular UC claim on or before December 27, 2020, and the state later determines that the individual is not eligible for regular UC, the state should use the date the claimant filed the regular UC claim as the date of filing for the PUA claim, so long as the individual met the requirements for PUA as of that date. For example, if the individual filed a regular UC application on October 4, 2020 and the state determined the claimant was not eligible for regular UC on January 15, 2021, the PUA application will be deemed to have been filed on October 4, 2020 and the PUA claim will be backdated to that date."
- Expanding benefits to include part-time employees, freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers, the self-employed, and others who also do not otherwise qualify for regular unemployment benefits AND fit into one of the following categories:
- The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
Example (1): An individual who has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19 because the individual has tested positive for the coronavirus or has been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and continuing work activities, such as through telework, is not possible by virtue of such diagnosis or condition;
Example (2): An individual who has to quit his or her job due to coming in direct contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus or has been diagnosed by a medical professional as having COVID-19, and, on the advice of a qualified medical health professional is required to resign from his or her position in order to quarantine.
- A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Example: A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional or a member of the individual’s household has tested positive for COVID-19 and the individual is unable to work as a result.
- The individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Example: An individual is “providing care” for a family member or a member of the individual’s household if the provision of care requires such ongoing and constant attention that the individual’s ability to perform other work functions is severely limited. An individual who is assisting a family member who is able to adequately care for him or herself is not “providing care” under this category.
- A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work.
- Example (1): An individual has “primary caregiving responsibility” for a child or other person in the household if he or she is required to remain at home to care for the child or other person.
- Example (2): This includes an individual whose job allows for telework, but for whom the provision of care to the child or other person with a closed school or other facility requires such ongoing and constant attention that it is not possible for the individual to perform work at home.
- Program Letter 16-20 Change 3 explains: "When the school system provides the individual with a choice between full-time in-person instruction and remote learning, it is open for students to be physically present at the school. If the individual who is the primary caregiver chooses to have the student(s) participate in remote learning instead of in-person instruction, the individual does not meet the provisions of [this] item."
- The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Example (1): An individual who is unable to reach his or her place of employment because doing so would require the violation of a state or municipal order restricting travel that was instituted to combat the spread of COVID-19.
- Example (2): An individual may also qualify if he or she is unable to reach the place of employment due to a stay-at-home, shelter-in-place, or other order that requires an individual to stay home in quarantine to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
- Example (1): An individual who has been advised by a qualified medical professional that he or she may be infected with the coronavirus and that he or she therefore should self-quarantine. For example, an individual had direct contact with another person who has tested positive for the coronavirus or been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and is advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine to prevent further possible spread of the virus. Such circumstances would render the individual unable to reach his or her place of employment.
- Example (2) (DOL PROGRAM LETTER NO. 16-20 Change 4): An individual whose immune system is compromised by virtue of a serious health condition and is therefore advised by a health care provider to self quarantine in order to avoid the greater-than-average health risks that the individual might face if he or she were to become infected by the coronavirus.
- The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Example (1): An individual is unable to reach his or her job because doing so would require the violation of a state or municipal order restricting travel that was instituted to combat the spread of the coronavirus or the employer has closed the place of employment.
- Example (2): An individual does not have a job because the employer with whom the individual was scheduled to commence employment has rescinded the job offer as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
- Example: An individual whose head of household previously contributed the majority of financial support to the household died as a direct result of COVID-19, and the individual is now the person in the household expected to provide such financial support.
- The individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19.
- Example (Program Letter 16-20 Change 4): An individual was diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although the individual no longer has COVID-19, the illness caused health complications that render the individual objectively unable to perform his or her essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation. States should also note that, for purposes of [this] item . . ., an individual does not have to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19 if paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits are available to the individual. Generally, an employee “has to quit” within the meaning of this Section only when ceasing employment is an involuntary decision compelled by the circumstances identified in this Section.
- The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Example (1) (Program Letter 16-20 Change 4): If a business is shut down due to an emergency declaration or due to necessary social distancing protocols, the resulting unemployment of affected individuals would be considered a direct result of COVID-19. While a government-mandated closure is not necessary to satisfy this category, the claimant must be able to self-certify that the business was closed “as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
- Example (2) (Program Letter 16-20 Change 4): If a business has multiple parts and one or some of those parts is shut down due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19, affected staff from the parts of the business that shut down may be eligible for PUA. For example, a business may include both a restaurant and a brewery. If the individual’s place of employment is the restaurant and the restaurant is shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even if the brewery continues to operate, the individual who was employed in the restaurant may be eligible for PUA. An individual who is working reduced hours while his or her place of employment continues to operate does not satisfy the conditions to self-certify under [this] item.
- The individual meets any additional criteria established by the Secretary for unemployment assistance under this section
1. Self-employed individuals (including independent contractors and gig workers) who experienced a significant diminution of their customary or usual services because of the COVID-19 public health emergency
(Program Letter 16-20 Change 4
- Example (1): (DOL PROGRAM LETTER NO. 16-20) The Secretary has determined that, in addition to individuals who qualify for benefits under the other criteria described above, an individual who works as an independent contractor with reportable income may also qualify for PUA benefits if he or she is unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work because the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited his or her ability to continue performing his or her customary work activities, and has thereby forced the individual to suspend such activities. For example, a driver for a ridesharing service who receives an IRS Form 1099 from the ride sharing service may not be eligible for PUA benefits under the other criteria outlined above, because such an individual does not have a “place of employment,” and thus cannot claim that he or she is unable to work because his or her place of employment has closed. However, under the additional eligibility criterion established by the Secretary here, the driver may still qualify for PUA benefits if he or she has been forced to suspend operations as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as if an emergency state or municipal order restricting movement makes continued operations unsustainable.
- Example (2): (DOL PROGRAM LETTER NO. 16-20 - Change 1) An independent contractor may be eligible for PUA if he or she is unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of one of the COVID-19 related reasons listed in section 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I) of the CARES Act. This includes an independent contractor who experiences a significant diminution of work as a result of COVID-19.
2. Individuals who refuse to return to work that is unsafe or accept an offer of new work that is unsafe.
(DOL Program Letter No. 16-20 - Change 5
“The individual has been denied continued unemployment benefits because the individual refused to return to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite that, in either instance, is not in compliance with local, state, or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19. This includes, but is not limited to, those related to facial mask wearing, physical distancing measures, or the provision of personal protective equipment consistent with public health guidelines.”
This new COVID-19 related reason applies only to individuals who had already been receiving unemployment benefits but were determined to be ineligible or disqualified under state law because they refused an offer of work at a worksite that was not in compliance with local, state, or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19.
3. Certain individuals providing services to educational institutions or educational service agencies.
(DOL Program Letter No. 16-20 - Change 5
“An individual provides services to an educational institution or educational service agency and the individual is unemployed or partially unemployed because of volatility in the work schedule that is directly caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. This includes, but is not limited to, changes in schedules and partial closures.”
- Example (1): Individual does not have a contract or reasonable assurance. An individual who: (1) has provided services to an educational institution or educational service agency; (2) lacks a contract or reasonable assurance and, as a result, is not subject to the “between and within terms” denial provisions; and (3) is not otherwise eligible for regular UC (or PEUC or EB) may self-certify eligibility for PUA under this new COVID-19 related reason if they are subject to significant volatility in the school schedule.
- Example (2): Individual has a contract or reasonable assurance. An individual is generally not eligible for PUA if they: (1) have provided services to an educational institution or educational service agency; and (2) are filing for a week that is between or within terms and they have a contract or reasonable assurance to return in the subsequent year or term, and, as a result, they are denied regular UC (or PEUC or EB). However, the individual may be eligible for PUA if they have other non-educational employment from which they are able to self-certify that they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work for a different COVID-19 related reason.
4. Individuals experiencing a reduction of hours or a temporary or permanent lay-off. DOL Program Letter No. 16-20 - Change 5
“An individual is an employee and their hours have been reduced or the individual was laid off as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
Under this new COVID-19 related reason, if an individual is laid off because the place of employment is partially closed (either permanently or temporarily) or the individual has experienced a reduction in hours, the individual may now self-certify eligibility.
F. FPUC: Up to an additional $600 per week in benefits, which will be applied retroactively to March 29, 2020 and last through July 25, 2020. If you are receiving unemployment, you do not need need to apply separately for PUA benefits to receive this additional $600.00.
G. FPUC Extension: Up to an additional $300 per week in benefits. The Continued Assistance Act, enacted on December 27, 2020, provides an additional $300 per week in benefits beginning December 26, 2020 and ending on or before March 14, 2020. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 extended these benefits until September 4, 2021. In May 2021, Governor Dewine decided to opt out of the additional $400 effective June 26, 2021.
H. MUEC: Up to an additional $100 per week in benefits for certain mixed earners: These are people who received both income as employees and self-employment income. They may qualify for this additional benefit if they i) have received at least $5,000 of self-employment income in the most recent taxable year prior to the individual’s application for regular UC, ii) are receiving a UI benefit (other than PUA) for which FPUC is payable, and iii) submit documentation substantiating their self-employment income. This additional payment does not apply to individuals collecting PUA.
I. PEUC - Extension of Unemployment Benefits: The CARES Act initially provided an additional 13 weeks of extended PEUC benefits. The Continued Assistance Act increased the 13 weeks to 24 weeks. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 then increased the 24 weeks to 53 weeks.
J. Contacting Unemployment: Ohio Unemployment continues to be difficult, or near impossible, to reach by telephone.
For the regular unemployment system, this link provides telephone numbers to the various processing centers, which may or may not be easier to get through to than the general number. The fax number is 614-466-7449, but be sure to save a fax confirmation whenever sending anything by fax. They can also be emailed at JFS.UI_Respond@jfs.ohio.gov, though we hear they have not been responding to emails.
For the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system, the call center number is (833) 604-0774 and the email is Progressive-PUA@jfs.ohio.gov
K. COVID-19 Weekly Claims: This is a guide to filing COVID-19 related weekly claims: https://bit.ly/2QXeRMV
L. COVID-19 Stimulus Checks: These do NOT need to be reported as earnings when filing weekly claims.
M. PUA Overpayments: Nearly one in five people who applied for PUA benefits have received notices that they were overpaid. ODJFS claims that it used reported income without verifying to get payments out quickly, but are now verifying income and adjusting payments. As a result, in the midst of the pandemic many people are seeing their benefits stopped and receiving notices that they need to pay back thousands of dollars. An appeal can be filed for these overpayment notices, though it should focus on the benefit amount that was determined (i.e., is the new benefit amount correct, did it consider all income?) rather than arguing that the overpayment should be waived because it is ODJFS's error.
The Continued Assistance Act passed in December 2020 authorizes states to waive the repayment if the state determines that the payment of PUA was without fault on the part of any such individual and such repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience. Factors that a state may consider include whether "(a) It would cause financial hardship to the person from whom it is sought; (b) The recipient of the overpayment can show (regardless of his or her financial circumstances) that due to the notice that such payment would be made or because of the incorrect payment either he/she has relinquished a valuable right or changed positions for the worse; or (c) Recovery could be unconscionable under the circumstances." The waiver provision is permissive. Therefore the state may choose not to waive the PUA overpayment. At this time, it is unclear whether Ohio will allow waivers.
Many individuals who have overpayments have received the attached notice with instructions on how to request a waiver. If the payment is through no fault of the claimant (e.g., PUA had all of the records to make the correct determination) and it would create a financial hardship to have to pay back the overpayment (e.g., limited income, removes benefits at a time when most needed, places a great deal of debt upon the claimant), it may be helpful to point out these issues.
N. When Your Employer Asks You to Return to Work But it is Not Safe or You Are at High Risk: On June 16, 2020, Governor Dewine signed Executive Order 2020-24D, which makes it easier for people to turn down offers to return to work due to being at high risk, and yet still collect unemployment. Here is the pertinent text of that order:
When an employee is called back to work in the same position as prior to the Director of Health's special orders, there is a presumption that the position is considered "suitable work" under the Ohio Unemployment Insurance program. Individuals who refuse to return to work without good cause in order to obtain additional unemployment benefits may have their eligibility negatively impacted. During the period of the COVID-19 state of emergency, the following constitutes "good cause" for refusing suitable work:
- A medical professional' s recommendation that an individual not return to work because he/she falls into a category that is considered "high risk" for contracting COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the employer cannot offer teleworking options; or
- The employee is sixty-five years of age or older; or
- Tangible evidence of a health and safety violation by the employer that does not allow the employee to practice social distancing, hygiene, and wearing protective equipment; or
- Potential exposure· to COVID-19 and subject to a prescribed quarantine period by a medical or health professional; or
- Staying home to care for a family member who is suffering from COVID-19 or subject to a prescribed quarantine period by a medical or health professional.
CDC information about high risk categories can be found here.
O. Failing to Follow Safety Requirements? It is true that an employee can have just cause to resign if their employer failed to provide proper safety measures required by law. You can find Ohio's COVID-19 related requirements for employers who are reopening here. #3 of Executive Order 2020-24D may also be helpful, as it allows a person to turn down a job there is, "Tangible evidence of a health and safety violation by the employer that does not allow the employee to practice social distancing, hygiene, and wearing protective equipment." DOL Program Letter No. 16-20 - Change also lets people resign and recieve PUA benefits if their employer is not following required safety protocols.
If an employee has safety concerns, they should communicate those concerns to their employer, describe how the employer is not complying with safety measures required by law, take the concerns up the chain of command if a resolution is not obtained, and give the employer an adequate opportunity to resolve the issues. Whenever possible, these communications should be done in writing and saved to be able to show Unemployment.That writing can be emails, letters or even text messages with screenshots of the messages saved. It may also help to also report the concerns to the local health department.
P. Tip for Dealing With PUA Denials. Many people receive multiple notices that deny them, seem to approve them, and place their benefits on hold as an issue is being resolved. They might receive a non-monetary determination that denies them and then a monetary determination that seems to approve them, even though the non-monetary determination will prevent payments until it is appealed and resolved. To develop a strategy, it is important to isolate each issue and to focus on the reason each determination is denying benefits. Each denial will have its own appeal track, so each reason needs evaluated and each denial needs appealed. Our first question when evaluating a case is, what reason does the Determination Notice state that you are denied and owe an overpayment?
Q. Do You Need an Attorney? We provide free telephone consultations to review this very question. Most times we are able to help and answer questions without the need of hiring an attorney. It is very important to contact an attorney when a case involves appeals. The first appeal step is done in writing and important for getting benefits started quickly. We cannot help with that first appeal step if we are contacted after it has already been filed, so contact us before you file the appeal. The second appeal step involves a telephone hearing is is usually both the best and last real opportunity to obtain a win. There is very little you or an attorney can do after the hearing, so be sure to contact an attorney before the hearing. We will talk about your case, offer free guidance, and if appropriate talk about legal representation with a contingency fee where we get paid only when we obtain a win for you.