CLEVELAND — Legal Analysis: As we enter week two of the Ohio Department of Health's order for all non-essential businesses to close their doors due to COVID-19 coronavirus concerns, many have questions about what to do if it seems companies aren't playing by the rules.
After talking with several agencies in Northeast Ohio, things became a bit clearer.
Here we'll cover what's reportable under Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton's Stay At Home order, who you should be reporting potential violations to, and what's at stake for everyone involved.
What constitutes a reportable offense?
If you think a business is still operating that might not be essential, that entity could be in violation of Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton's Stay At Home order.
The order is vague as to what constitutes an essential business, and so it is up to that organization to justify why it needs to stay open if an investigation is opened into whether it actually qualifies under the order.
Even if it does quality, you can also report an essential business if it's not observing the proper safety guidelines outlined in the order, such as keeping employees at a safe distance of at least six feet apart.
Who should I report potential violations to?
Ohio's Department of Health has the responsibility to enforce the Stay At Home order. Therefore, no matter what agency you report a possible violation to, your local health officials will be the ones investigating the matter.
Therefore, it is strongly encouraged that you contact your local health officials to report your concerns about companies operating outside of the order's requirements.
In Ohio, there are currently 113 local health department, consisting of .general health districts at the county level, and city health districts and combined health districts at both the county and city level. (Click here to locate your local health department by address and find the best way to communicate with that office.)
While it is possible to report potential violations of the order to local law enforcement, that is not the preferred approach to take.
If you do report to local law enforcement, that agency will merely make a report of the facts of your complaint and send that along to local health officials to conduct their investigation.
Further, people should not be calling emergency lines such as 911 to report potential violations. Only non-emergency lines should be used.
What penalties will business owners face if they violate the order?
Health officials told 3News that their primary goal is to educate and remedy any situation that proves to be a valid complaint, so that will be the first course of action.
If a situation cannot or is not corrected, local health officials can and will order a business found to be in violation to close its doors.
From there, things could escalate to involve local prosecutors if needed.
A violation of the Stay At Home order is a 2nd degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, up to a $750 fine, or both.
What happens if I just quit my job rather than report a violation?
First and foremost, the goal of the Stay At Home order that requires nonessential businesses to cease in-person operations is to stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus and flatten the curve, to save lives.
Beyond that, with the passage of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, people's access to benefits is at stake.
If you’re still employed at a place that shouldn’t be open under Dr. Acton's order, you won't be eligible for unemployment or other benefits for displaced workers if you simply quit your job.
If you do choose to go that route rather than utilizing through the proper channels to have your place of employment correctly designated under the order, you could be missing out on both state and federal unemployment benefits you may be entitled to.
Stephanie Haney is licensed to practice law in both Ohio and California.
The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only. None of the information in this article is offered, nor should it be construed, as legal advice on any matter.