CLEVELAND, Ohio — In April, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland set up a worker information line to answer community questions regarding employment and unemployment during the pandemic. Managing Attorney of the Legal Aid Society’s economic justice practice Katherine Hollingsworth says they've received over 350 calls and counting.
“Now more than ever, with the COVID-19 crisis, our work that we do in the economic justice group is important. There are so many people who are in a vulnerable position. They're scared, they may have lost their income, and they may never have been faced with this economic challenge before,” Hollingsworth said.
Legal Aid Society attorneys say they receive many calls about technical administrative issues dealing with the department of jobs and family services. They're also hearing from people about applying for unemployment compensation, and even more who are now being called back to work and want to know what their rights are.
“A lot of workers still feel hesitant to go back. They're worried about their safety, they're worried about their health and questions about do I need to return to work or can I refuse an offer and still collect unemployment compensation?” said Legal Aid Society Staff Attorney Mason Pesek.
Workers’ rights attorney Mason Pesek says Governor Mike DeWine recently signed an executive order allowing some workers under certain circumstances the right to refuse returning to work while still being eligible for unemployment compensation.
“And those include if a medical professional recommends that the employee should not return to work because they're considered high risk. If that employee is 65 years of age or older, if there is, again, tangible evidence of the health or safety violation, and if the employee has been potentially exposed to COVID, and is subject to a quarantine period,” Pesek said.
Hollingsworth says as workplace safety continues to be a concern, it’s vital that workers keep documentation for themselves.
“If you're having any problems, keep a record of what's going on and who you talk to. When you talk to those people and keeping copies of any documents, that is gonna put you in a much better position to potentially prevail if there is a legal case that arises,” Hollingsworth said.
Pesek says for workers who have already returned to work or have never stopped working, knowing their rights is not only vital for their health, but for the livelihood of the economy.
“The workers we represent, I believe, are the backbone of our economy, those are our service industry workers. The workers who are being considered essential and being called back are the ones who are going to be on the frontlines of the reopening of this economy. So, our information that we give, I believe, is critical and keeping them and keeping workers knowledgeable about what their rights are in the workplace, how to remain safe, and how to keep their families safe and maintain their income as we get through, I mean, essentially an unprecedented pandemic,” Pesek says.
If you have questions about your employment rights or the Legal Aid Society’s Worker Information Line, visit their website.