Stunningly, the federal agency in charge of ensuring that employers provide safe conditions and protect workers from serious hazards—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—has abdicated its responsibility for protecting workers in this pandemic. The agency has failed to issue any COVID-19-related safety provisions that employers must implement. Further, even though over 8,000 workers filed complaints with OSHA asking for an inspection of their workplace due to COVID-19 hazards, OSHA has only done a handful of on-site inspections. Existing worker protections are grossly inadequate to ensure safe workplaces and protect workers who speak up about hazards.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued guidelines for employers to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. But OSHA is not even requiring that employers follow the specific CDC guidance for employers.
This toolkit, Worker Safety & Health During COVID-19 Pandemic, explains what employers should do to protect workers. For example, in all non-healthcare workplaces, employers should ensure that workers are six feet apart, provide you with cotton masks or allow you to bring in your own cotton masks, place hand sanitizers around your workplace, and provide time for you to sanitize workstations.
If your employer is not providing these measures, or workers are getting sick in your workplace, you and your co-workers can join together to demand that your employer provide these measures. The NELP toolkit and this FAQ: Immigrant Workers’ Rights and COVID-19 contain information about workers’ rights to engage in legally protected collective action.
If the employer fails to implement protections, you can also file administrative complaints:
- Call your local county health department and let them know the employer is not protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19. Inform them of any cases in your workplace.
- File a complaint with OSHA. However, OSHA is not conducting inspections for violations of CDC guidelines in non-health care workplaces related to COVID-19. However, they may conduct an inspection if the company is violating existing OSHA standards — such as the standard to provide soap and water. They will only contact your employer by email or phone, but they will keep your name confidential.
The complaint should detail how the workplace is violating the OSHA and CDC guidelines. The complaint should also list any existing OSHA standards the employer is violating. The worker, or a representative of the worker (e.g., a union, worker center, legal advocate, or family member), can file a complaint by phone or through the OSHA website.
While federal pandemic unemployment benefits were available, if your immune system was compromised because you had a serious health condition and you were advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine in order to avoid the greater-than-average health risks if you were to contract COVID-19, you should have been able to remain home and apply for unemployment insurance.