How States and Localities Can Protect Workplace Safety and Health

A Joint Publication from Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program and NELP

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.

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About the Authors

Jane Flanagan

Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School

Terri Gerstein

Fellow, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School

M. Patricia Smith

Senior Counsel, National Employment Law Project

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