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'About As Evil As It Gets': As State Reopens, Ohio Urges Employers to Snitch on Workers Who Stay Home Due to Covid-19 Concerns

Less than a week after some industries reopened, about 1,200 workers across the state have been reported to the government. 

A staff member at a restaurant on North High Street takes out the trash on March 15, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. Restaurants in the state remain closed for the time being, but with some industries opening up, the Ohio Labor Department is calling on employers to "report" workers who don't come to work due to the coronavirus. (Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

Ohio officials are encouraging employers to report what they've designated "Covid-19 fraud" as the state begins reopening some industries. Workers who refuse to report to work in light of the pandemic, which has killed more than 1,300 Ohio residents so far, can be reported via a government website and have their unemployment benefits taken away.

According to the Washington Post, less than a week after the state reopened manufacturing and distribution facilities, construction, and offices, 600 employers have "turned in" about 1,200 workers for not reporting to work.

"'Turned in' is a really fucked up way to even begin thinking about this," tweeted labor journalist Sarah Jaffe in response to the Post's report.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services set up a website this week where employers may use a form "to report employees who quit or refuse work when it is available due to Covid-19."

With retail stores expected to reopen on Monday, employees in that sector  could be reported as early as next week for not returning to work.

In an email sent to employers across Ohio, officials told companies that "Ohio law prohibits individuals from receiving unemployment benefits if they refuse to accept offers of suitable work, or quit work, without good cause."

By designating a deadly public health crisis an insufficient cause for staying home, as health experts have consistently urged for nearly two months, the Ohio government is giving residents a "near-impossible choice," according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. 

Ohio workers must now choose between "going to work and earning income to put food on the table, and protecting their health," senior policy analyst Alex Camardelle told the Post. 

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Critics on social media accused Ohio officials of encouraging employers to "snitch" on workers for following the recommendations of public health officials.

Other Republican-led states have also aggressively pressured workers to report to their jobs with threats of having unemployment benefits taken away. As Common Dreams reported last month, Iowa officials are designating failure to report to businesses in reopened industries as a "voluntary quit," while Texas's reopening order carried the same message. 

The Century Foundation, a progressive and non-partisan think tank, noted that the focus on so-called "Covid-19 fraud" in Republican-led states stems from a fixation at the U.S. Department of Labor on rooting out workers who are using unemployment benefits when work is available to them. According to the Labor Department, nearly 90% of people who received unemployment benefits in Ohio between 2016 and 2019 used the system correctly.

"The driving activity of the U.S. Department of Labor for the last six to seven years has been unemployment fraud," Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the foundation, told The American Prospect.

Ohio's website represents a "bright flashing light of 'fraud, fraud, fraud' that for me is just like another example of the system's overemphasis on unemployment fraud, rather than making sure we pay people who are out of work," he added.

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