The Biden administration has exempted most employers from the expected rules to protect workers from the coronavirus, and infuriated labor advocates who had spent more than a year pushing for protections.
The Department of Labor only included health workers in its new temporary emergency rule published Thursday.
The rules require employers to develop a virus protection plan and strengthen the requirements for registering and reporting COVID-19 cases among workers. They also require employers to provide workers with free time for COVID-19-related absences, including vaccination and recovery from the side effects of the shooting.
Instead of dictating mandatory rules for other jobs, the Biden administration issued a new non-binding guideline that relaxed some recommendations. Most workplaces where people are fully vaccinated no longer need coronavirus protection, according to guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency responsible for protecting workers. Separately order, The Biden government also raised a 25% limit on business capacity within federal buildings, while maintaining flexible remote labor policies.
The decision comes as many stores and other companies are already relaxing masks and other protection policies in response to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it also represents a step back from President Joe Biden’s earlier indications that he would reverse the Trump administration’s refusal to enact mandatory protection rules for workers.
The new standard “represents an unfulfilled promise for the millions of American workers in grocery stores and meat-packing plants who have fallen ill and died on the front lines of this pandemic,” said Marc Peronne , chairman of the Business Union and Workers Union, which represents 1.3 million workers, said in a statement.
Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official now working on the National Labor Law Project, said the new rules do not protect many low-wage workers, such as slaughterhouse employees who work shoulder to shoulder on production lines.
“We’re glad OSHA is finally moving to protect health workers, but we’re disappointed that they haven’t been able to protect the rest of the workers at risk,” Berkowitz said.
Biden raised expectations about an emergency rule covering all jobs when he signed an executive order shortly after taking office, giving OSHA until March 15 to publish the rules. But the Department of Labor missed that deadline and the landscape surrounding the pandemic changed, increasing vaccination rates and the CDC relaxing its own focus on distancing and masking.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh cited the changed reality and new CDC guidelines at a session of the House Education and Labor Committee, where he addressed questions from Democratic lawmakers about why the rules would not cover the workers outside health care.
OSHA had no rules for workplaces to explore pandemic-scale disease outbreaks. Although some state agencies issued temporary emergency rules, the Trump administration only issued guidelines on how employers should protect workers.
Labor advocates had hoped the new federal rules would signal Biden’s commitment to strengthening OSHA, which has been criticized for conducting fewer inspections and issuing fewer citations on COVID-related complaints.
In statements, U.S. Representative Bobby Scott, the Democratic chairman of the House Education and Work Committee, criticized the new rule as “too little, too late for countless workers and families across the country.”
OSHA said the rule, which will be in effect for six months, was justified for health workers because the virus poses a “serious danger” to them. The agency noted that nearly 500,000 health workers contracted the virus on May 24 and more than 1,600 of them had died.
Jonathan Snare, OSHA’s deputy acting secretary during the George W. Bush administration, said the federal watchdog must show that a situation poses a “grave danger” when temporary emergency rules are issued. Snare, a partner at Philadelphia-based global law firm Morgan Lewis, said the Biden administration likely considered it could face legal challenges from other jobs if it imposed strict regulations as the pandemic began to recede. .
However, many entrepreneurs had expected a set of firm rules since the beginning of the pandemic, said Brian Kropp, head of human resources practice research at consulting firm Gartner. The latest non-binding guide adds more uncertainty, especially for companies considering when and how to bring employees to offices, Kropp said.
Only a small fraction of companies, for example, plan to ask employees about their vaccination status before returning to work. This makes it difficult for companies to decide whether they can remove safety standards from vaccinated employees, Kropp said. The new guidelines state that employers should implement distancing and provide masks for unvaccinated workers, customers and visitors.
“What employers want is simplicity and clarity and the hard, fast rules they can follow,” Kropp said. “It allows them to say they just follow rules, rather than having difficult conversations with employees about one set of activities versus another. It allows them to pass the dollar.”
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Citation: New COVID-19 Federal Safety Standards Exempt Most Employers (2021, June 11) Retrieved June 11, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-06-federal-covid- safety-exempt-employers.html
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