The state of Ohio won't deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to work during the COVID-19 pandemic after people targeted the website it was using to track these workers, according to officials at the state’s Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS).
The state previously set up a “fraud” website encouraging employers to report those who refused to go back on the job, angering workers and labor rights advocates. State officials say they are now reconsidering the policy after Motherboard reported that a hacker created a script to flood the “COVID-19 Fraud” website with junk data, with the goal of making it impossible to process these claims.
“No benefits are being denied right now as a result of a person’s decision not to return to work while we continue to evaluate the policy," ODJFS Director Kimberly Hall told Cleveland.com.
"Because Ohio is still examining its policies in this area, no adjudications concerning a refusal to return to work have been initiated," Bret Crow, a spokesperson for the department, told Motherboard in an email.
The anonymous hacker previously told Motherboard they created the script as a form of direct action in support of working people. Ohio is among several states that have prematurely reopened against the advice of health experts, forcing many workers to return to their jobs and put themselves at risk of contracting the deadly virus.
Over 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March, and unemployment benefits are quickly becoming many peoples’ sole source of income. Meanwhile, many retail and service workers deemed “essential” have said they are being forced to continue working in crowded stores and warehouses without personal protective equipment such as masks.
While the hacker’s script has since stopped working after changes to Ohio’s website, another hacker has taken up the project and plans to release an updated version, the anonymous hacker told Motherboard.
UPDATE: The form for reporting workers has been completely removed from Ohio's unemployment website and replaced with a message saying it is "under revision pending policy references."