Essential or non-essential? Governor's order gives wide latitude for businesses to stay open


COLUMBUS (WBNS) – Over the weekend, Governor Mike DeWine urged employers and businesses to re-assess whether or not they are really essential or could close.

He has even hinted at stricter enforcement if necessary but it didn’t come during Monday’s news conference. A spokesman for the governor said he had no update.

But the language in the governor’s stay-at-home order also provides wide latitude for businesses - that either provide crucial services or are in the supply chain - to stay open so long as they can allow for “as many employees as possible” to work from home, can remain flexible with employees’ sick time and can practice behaviors like social distancing in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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But since the governor’s order, 10 Investigates has received dozens of complaint calls and emails from employees who have expressed concern about their employer.

The concern of the spread of the coronavirus prompted the president of Columbus-based Crafts Group – formerly Crafts Americana Group – to shut down for the time being.

Matt Petkun, the company's president, told 10 Investigates over video chat that his employee's health comes ahead of fulfilling orders.

He says they made the tough call last week to stop fulfilling online orders for things like yarn or quilting kits and have since closed its distribution warehouse. Petkun added that his 70+ employees are stilling being paid.

“There is very wide latitude in this order, I don't want to condemn any other businesses for how they identified what fit their business, but for us, we care about our people first.,” he said.

Petkun said the decision was not easy and will likely come “with consequences” – meaning hits to his bottom line, which is perhaps why some other businesses have opted to stay open.

10 Investigates has received dozens of messages from people who work at construction sites, warehouses or call centers.

After a viewer contacted 10 Investigates with a question about Newell Brands, which makes Yankee Candle, a spokeswoman for the company said:

“Our people are our number one priority and we’re taking every measure possible to keep them safe and prevent exposure to COVID-19. Every precaution is being taken to ensure employee health and safety in the workplace including staggering shifts, following physical distancing guidelines, compartmentalizing sections of the facilities and increasing cleaning and sanitation. Employees are offered a bank of Emergency Paid Sick Days if they become ill or have to care for an ill family member, without having to use their existing vacation and/or sick time.

Newell Brands is not violating the Stay at Home Order issued by Governor DeWine. Our Home Fragrance businesses are classified as an essential business by the Order so we can continue to provide products to our consumers and retailers. The Order classifies distribution centers as critical infrastructure for those centers that distribute products for wholesale and retail use and orders their continued operations. Many of our retail customers have asked us for our partnership and support so they can have enough product to meet their shoppers’ needs. We’re very appreciative and grateful to our employees and understand they have concerns and questions, so we have provided frequent communications and information. We’re sensitive to employees who do not feel comfortable coming to work and they are able to stay at home without being penalized.”

10 Investigates has also received several emails from viewers with concerns about the Chase call center near Easton. A company spokeswoman said that they were aware of a potential case of COVID-19 there, but could not comment beyond that. The spokeswoman had previously said that the company had notified its employees, spaced them out and conducted deep cleaning.

10 Investigates also heard similar complaints about the Spectrum call center on Olentangy River Road where employees had complained about social distancing and that not all employees are able to work from home. A company spokesman has said that the facility has increased employee paid sick time, observed social distancing and deep cleaned.

Franklin County Public Health says it has received more than 200 complaints about businesses being open during the governor’s stay-at-home order.

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