Employment Law

Will Ohio Waive Repayment of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Overpayments?

May 12th, 2021 by

Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS), the state agency that administers unemployment claims and payments in Ohio, says $413.6 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) overpayments were awarded last year. Nearly one in five people who applied for unemployment benefits under the PUA program have received notices from ODJFS that they were overpaid. According to ODJFS, it used reported income without verifying to get payments out quickly when PUA became available to Ohioans under the CARES Act, and only more recently has the agency started to verify income and adjust payments. As a result, amid the on-going COVID-19 pandemic many people have seen their benefits stopped and received notices that they need to pay back thousands of dollars.
Overpayment of PUA benefits to unemployment claimants who were not at fault for the improper amount and notices demanding repayment of money long-ago spent to survive the pandemic has been a nationwide issue. As a result, in December 2020, Congress passed the Continued Assistance Act and authorized states to waive the repayment if the state determines that the payment of PUA was without fault on the part of the person who applied for benefits and that repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience. But the waiver provision is permissive. That means Ohio could choose not to waive the PUA overpayments. At this time, it is not certain that Ohio will allow waivers, but signs indicate that the state may be headed in that direction.
In mid-February State Reps. Lisa Sobecki and Jeff Crossman introduced House Bill (HB) 139, legislation that, if passed, would require the Director of ODJFS to waive the collection of certain unemployment benefit overpayments received by Ohioans through no fault of their own. This legislation is aimed at helping those who were not at fault for the overpayment by ODJFS or for those for whom repayment would cause an undue hardship.
Sobecki and Crossman recognize that many Ohioans have been struggling to pay rent and buy groceries, and many had difficulties collecting their unemployment compensation, in the first place. As Rep. Sobecki has said, “Many Ohioans can’t afford to pay back an overpayment they might have received. This isn’t the time to require those overpayments.” They argue the state should waive unemployment overpayments to protect Ohioans if the payments were received in good faith through no fault of the unemployment recipient. According to Crossman, “Forcing unemployment recipients to repay the benefits they were initially told they were rightfully entitled to only adds more insult to injury during this pandemic. In many cases, the initial delays in receiving benefits took months to begin with and created substantial hardships for people.”
In late April, ODJFS interim director Matt Damschroder testified before the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, which is considering HB 139. Damschroder explained how the state mistakenly overpaid thousands of claimants. According to Damschroder the ODJFS system was set up with an incorrect system query for the PUA program. Damschroder told the Finance Committee that ODJFS intends to release a plan on waiving overpayments sometime in May. Whether the proposed legislation requires the state to waive the overpayments of PUA or whether ODJFS comes up with its own plan for waiver remains to be seen.
In the meantime, if an unemployment claimant receives a notice of overpayment, it is possible to file an appeal. If you have questions about unemployment benefits or related issues, the attorneys at FMR are here to help.

Find out more by clicking on these links:

House Bill 139

Ohio Job and Family Services working on plan to waive unemployment overpayments

Honest PUA recipients may be forced to pay for Ohio errors in overpayments

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Meet Our Attorneys – Niro M. Wijesooriya and Serah E. Siemann

May 5th, 2021 by

The attorneys of Freking Myers & Reul are a cohesive team with decades of experience helping individuals with legal advice and representation. Diligent, empathetic, passionate, approachable, are just a few words you could use to describe us. We would like you to get to know more about us by following our series “Meet Our Attorneys” to learn about our professional achievements and experiences as well as our passions, hobbies, and interests outside the office.

Niro Wijesooriya

Niro M. Wijesooriya practices in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, breach of employment contract, severance/separation negotiation, non-competition, and wage and hour law. He has appeared in state and federal trial and appellate courts, and before local, state, and federal agencies and commissions, including civil service commissions. Niro also provides clients with probate court representation and estate planning.

Niro has been a lawyer for over 15 years, practicing both civil and criminal law. He began his legal career as an Assistant Prosecutor for the City of Cincinnati, accumulating extensive jury and bench trial experience in criminal court while also assisting in civil matters. Niro left the Prosecutor’s office to work for a civil law firm, where he represented Public Sector unions and their members in everything from negotiating collective bargaining agreements, to grievances, to disciplinary matters. Niro also gained substantial experience representing private sector employees in a full spectrum of employment matters. Niro then started his own civil practice, while also managing the criminal and civil docket for a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge.

Before becoming a lawyer, Niro received his J.D. from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where he served as an Editor on the Human Rights Quarterly, and his B.A. in English Literature from the George Washington University.
Outside of work, Niro volunteers with several organizations that focus on assisting under-privileged children gain access to resources and opportunities, including Found Village and Cincinnati Squash Academy. He is an avid runner, and plays tennis, squash, and soccer. He and his wife created and ran a sports boosters’ club for the new elementary public school that their children attended. His son and daughter both currently attend Walnut Hills High School. Niro has lived in Africa, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand, and enjoys international travel. He now lives in Pleasant Ridge with his wife and their two children.

Serah E. Siemann

Serah E. Siemann is a graduate from the University of Dayton School of Law and is a member of the Ohio Bar. After working in the social welfare system for almost a decade, Serah pursued her career as an attorney to provide guidance and assistance to individuals facing complex and diverse legal issues. Serah has previously appeared as counsel for both employers and employees in state and federal proceedings. Currently, Serah continues to focus her practice on plaintiffs work in employment law matters including discrimination, Fair Labor Standards Act, harassment, and contractual relations. In addition, Serah serves as an advocate for families and children involved in the Juvenile court. Her practices areas also include estate planning, contract review, Social Security Disability and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In 2019, Serah was recognized by the Montgomery County Juvenile Court as Outstanding Attorney of the Year. Serah serves as co-chair of the Juvenile Law Section of the Dayton Bar Association and is actively serves as a Guardian Ad Litem in Dayton and the surrounding areas. She has been named an Ohio Super Lawyers Rising Star for 2020 and 2021.
In their free time, Serah and her husband enjoy spending time with their three children and four grandchildren. They continue to serve as foster/adoptive parents to children in the community. Serah enjoys traveling, reading and attending local festivals.

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OHIO’S EXPANDED ELIGIBLITY FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS UNDER THE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN

April 27th, 2021 by

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into federal law on March 11, 2021, extends many of the pandemic unemployment programs and benefits created by the federal CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. For workers in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Service (ODJFS) which runs the unemployment program has developed a Resource Hub that contains information on available benefits and how to apply.
In Ohio, traditional unemployment compensation is available to workers who meet minimum employment and earnings requirements and are unemployed through no fault of their own. This regular unemployment compensation is generally available for up to 26 weeks. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, unemployment has been extended and expanded. Here is a summary of the expanded benefits.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
The PUA program supports self-employed individuals, independent contractors and others who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits. Individuals not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits may be eligible for PUA. There is no minimum income requirement for PUA. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 makes it possible to receive PUA for up to 79 weeks through September 4, 2021.
To be eligible for PUA, individuals must NOT be eligible for regular unemployment benefits. In addition, they must meet one of the following COVID-19-related eligibility circumstances:
• The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or is experiencing symptoms and is seeking medical diagnosis;
• A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
• The individual is providing care for a family member or member of the household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
• A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 emergency, and the school or care is required for the individual to work;
• The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a COVID-19 quarantine;
• The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because a healthcare professional has advised him or her to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
• 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 COVID-19;
• 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;
• The individual has quit his/her job as a direct result of COVID-19;
• The individual was laid off as a direct result of COVID-19;
• The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – Expanded Benefits Eligibility for 3 New Groups
On February 21, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance expanding PUA eligibility to include three new groups of individuals eligible for PUA:
• Those previously receiving traditional unemployment benefits who refuse to return to work or refuse an offer of work because the workplace is not in compliance with local, state, or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19.
• Those who provide services to an educational institution or educational service agency and are fully or partially unemployed as a direct result of COVID-19.
• Those who are laid off or had their work hours reduced as a direct result of COVID-19.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
PEUC benefits are an extension of traditional unemployment benefits. They may be available to workers who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits or whose regular UI claim has expired. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 makes it possible to receive PEUC for up to 53 weeks from April 2020 through September 4, 2021.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
FPUC provides an additional $300 weekly benefit to eligible claimants in multiple programs. The most recent federal legislation extends the FPUC supplement through September 4, 2021. In Ohio, FPUC is being provided for all unemployment programs, including but not limited to those individuals receiving traditional unemployment benefits, PUA, PEUC, and SharedWork Ohio.
Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation
The federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 created the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) program for eligible traditional unemployment claimants who also earned at least $5,000 in self-employment wages during the most recent taxable year. The program provides a supplemental benefit of $100 per week for qualifying weeks of unemployment claimed between December 27, 2020, and March 13, 2021. Ohioans who are eligible for this benefit will receive payments retroactively. The MEUC program is extended through September 4, 2021.
Employer Benefits
The American Rescue Plan also includes benefits for employers. This most recent federal legislation continues the following:
• Extends full federal funding for Ohio’s SharedWork program.
• Authorizes 75% credits to reimbursing employers for traditional unemployment benefit charges.
• Authorizes full federal funding of the first week of traditional unemployment benefits, instead of 50%.
• Extends the waiver of interest to states whose Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds require federal borrowing.
If you have questions about applying for unemployment benefits or have an issue with your unemployment award, the attorneys at Freking Myers & Reul and here to help. For more information on expanded unemployment benefits in Ohio under the American Rescue Plan, see:

Coronavirus and Unemployment Insurance: Expanded Eligibility Resource Hub

Expanded Eligibility: Frequently Asked Questions

Pandemic Unemployment Program Updates

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Step-by-Step Application Instructions

ODJFS-infographic_Program-Progression

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Meet Our Attorneys – Erin Heidrich

April 27th, 2021 by

 

 

The attorneys of Freking Myers & Reul are a cohesive team with decades of experience helping individuals with legal advice and representation. Diligent, empathetic, passionate, approachable, are just a few words you could use to describe us. We would like you to get to know more about us by following our series “Meet Our Attorneys” to learn about our professional achievements and experiences as well as our passions, hobbies, and interests outside the office.

Erin Heidrich is a former high school English teacher, so her primary practice area—school law—is a natural fit. After spending five years as a teacher and nearly six as a lawyer, Erin can definitively say that teaching is the hardest and most important job in the world. But being able to support students and school employees when legal issues arise is also very rewarding.

As a school lawyer, Erin has represented students of all ages, from kindergarten to PhD, in matters such as suspension and expulsion hearings, athletic eligibility appeals, Title IX investigations, and special education due process hearings. Erin also represents teachers, administrators, and other school employees in employment matters. School employees have robust job protections, but achieving the best outcomes requires someone with knowledge of the laws that apply specifically to these employees. Erin has been designated an Ohio Super Lawyers Rising Star in school law for the last three years.

Erin and her husband share a 136-year-old house in Columbia Tusculum with their cat, Hazel. Erin enjoys being involved in community activities, and for several years has served on the Columbia Tusculum Community Council. Erin and her husband love to travel. Her recent favorite travel experiences include Japan, Estonia, and running the London Marathon. While she has been unable to travel over the last year, Erin has taken up painting, gardening, and cycling.

 

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Meet Our Attorneys – Jon B. Allison and Austin LiPuma

April 21st, 2021 by

Meet Our Attorneys

The attorneys of Freking Myers & Reul are a cohesive team with decades of experience helping individuals with legal advice and representation.  Diligent, empathetic, passionate, approachable, are just a few words you could use to describe us.  We would like you to get to know more about us by following our series “Meet Our Attorneys” to learn about our professional achievements and experiences as well as our passions, hobbies, and interests outside the office.

 

Jon B. Allison

Jon practices in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, breach of employment contract and non-competition. He is an experienced litigator who practices in federal and state trial and appellate courts and in federal and state agencies.
Jon grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He attended the University of Michigan where he studied psychology and education. He earned his law degree from the University of Cincinnati where he served as Law Review Editor-in-Chief.
Jon lives in Mt. Lookout with his spouse, Deb (who works for the City of Cincinnati), and two children, Kate and Ben. He spends the vast majority of his free time with them focused on their various activities. His favorite thing to do is take long walks or hikes with his family. Jon also has a twin brother who lives and works in Cincinnati with his spouse and son.

 

Austin H. LiPumaAustin H. LiPuma

Austin LiPuma concentrates his practice in wrongful death, premises, nursing home neglect/abuse, and car/truck/pedestrian accident cases. Austin is licensed to practice law in Ohio, Indiana, as well as federal courts in both states. Austin was recognized as a 2021 Ohio Super Lawyer Rising – Plaintiff Personal Injury. He sits on the board of the Southwest Ohio Trial Lawyers Association and is an active member of The Ohio Association for Justice.
In his spare time, Austin is heavily involved with University of Cincinnati’s Mock Trial Association, which is ranked in the top 50 out of over 750 registered teams across the Nation. For the past eight years, Austin has been the head coach of The Bearcats where he teaches undergraduate students the fundamentals of effective trial work and advocacy.
As a Cleveland native, Austin grew up in an Italian American household where food and family were the primary focuses of his upbringing. As such, when he is not working or coaching, you can find Austin either watching a cooking show (usually ‘Chopped’), cooking, or most likely, doing both. Austin also enjoys staying as active as possible and although he admittedly has “zero form,” feverishly enjoys playing tennis whenever and wherever the weather permits.
More recently, Austin has been featured as a regular on WLW’s The Bill Cunningham Show as a legal expert focusing on personal injury-type cases. Make sure to tune in and listen for Austin’s advice there or check out his standing blog: Personal Injury Claims During a Pandemic and Beyond.

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