The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program have released a new toolkit on strategic communication, a critical component of driving compliance with workplace laws. Communicating about agency enforcement, which is critical to informing the public about their rights and responsibilities, is one of the most effective ways to deter violations. These goals are more important than ever as labor enforcement agencies strive to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic.This resource addresses why agencies should use media and other means of strategic communications and offers suggestions on how to do so. In a moment of reduced state budgets and limited resources, media coverage and strategic communications are a cost-effective way for agencies to multiply their impact and inform workers of their rights.
The executive order directs agencies to eliminate regulations, to treat corporations with kid gloves and to refrain from enforcement action so long as companies say they’ve tried their best. It’s a staggering diversion of public resources to private corporate interests. Government resources at this moment should be focused on ramping up testing capabilities, ensuring that workplaces are safe and making sure that people can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. This is precisely what many state and local governments have done, while Trump wants agencies to spend the public’s time and money on weakening law enforcement and gutting protections.
An emergency medicine physician from Washington state has filed a lawsuit to get his job back at a hospital. He was fired in late March after criticizing his hospital's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
OSHA has faced criticism during the pandemic for not being more responsive to worker concerns. That may drive health care workers to take other legal routes when facing retaliation, says Terri Gerstein, a labor attorney who directs the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School's Labor and Worklife Program. Gerstein is also a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute."It's so important that employers understand that when people raise these kinds of safety concerns, it's not an adversarial thing," she says. "They are trying to make their workplace safer and stem the spread of this horrible disease."
Employers can expect leniency from federal regulators as they ramp up operations after virus-induced shutdowns, as long as they are able to demonstrate substantial good-faith efforts to adhere to recent updates to agency rules and guidance.
A new executive order President Donald Trump signed this week was intended to boost economic recovery in part by instructing agencies to overlook certain regulatory violations if a business tries to follow federal best practices for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
This section could give employers a significant upper hand in investigations. Certain aspects of it raise concerns for workers, said Terri Gerstein, director of the state and local enforcement project at Harvard’s Labor and Worklife Program. She cited a principle calling for enforcement to be “free of unfair surprise.”
Unionized workers are far more likely to speak out about dangerous working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s no mystery as to why.
Workers who have weak job protections are fearful to speak up, lest they get punished or even fired. The vast majority of Americans work “at will” ― meaning their employers can get rid of them for almost any reason, as long as it isn’t discriminatory.
And while workers have a nominal right to refuse dangerous work, the law is weak and puts the burden of proof on employees.
Jane Flanagan, Terri Gerstein, Patricia Smith Labor and Work LIfe Program and National Employment Law Project
As states consider how to protect public health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, various questions have arisen about their ability to do so: Specifically, to what degree is state action in the health and safety arena preempted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and federal enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA)? How can states and cities take action to protect workers and members of the public without running into federal preemption issues? This paper provides a basic explanation of OSHA preemption and describes some potential sources of authority and avenues for action by states and localities wishing to protect working people in their jurisdictions.
By Terri Gerstein and Jane Flanagan Economic Policy Institute
The need to safeguard workers’ physical health and financial stability is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. State and local labor enforcement agencies are critical to such efforts, particularly given the federal administration’s abdication of leadership on worker-protection issues. Yet responding to the current crisis will require state and local labor agencies to quickly reorient to a new reality and repurpose their staff and routine functions in new and creative ways. As former state enforcers, we share the following ideas about how such agencies might utilize tested and effective strategic enforcement strategies and tools to respond to this moment.
COMMENTARY | State and local officials have initiated many measures to mitigate the consequences of the coronavirus. However, there is still much more for them to do.
The Trump administration has failed the American people to an astonishing extent during the current pandemic crisis. Failed to prepare, failed to take the threat seriously, failed to direct resources where they’re needed, and failed to tell the truth. While Congress has provided some aid to state and local governments in relief packages, given the enormous fiscal challenges already underway, it will not go nearly far enough to help offset the health and economic fallout of Covid-19.
An unprecedented 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance across the country over the last two weeks with more likely to come. Many employers are responding to shutdown orders, lack of cash flow, and the crisis by laying people off. Leaders have enacted measures to encourage employers to avoid more layoffs, such as conditioning business loans on maintaining payroll and providing tax credits for payroll expenses.
Instead of laying off, for instance, half of the workforce, a company would decrease the hours of its employees by half. These workers would then be paid for 50 percent of their time and would receive unemployment compensation for the other 50 percent. More than two dozen states already have working sharing programs up and running, along the broad political spectrum, from California to Nebraska.