Feds Step in When States Fail to Protect Workers from Virus
States could lose regulatory power over workplace safety if they fail to require companies to adopt federal emergency COVID-19 rules to protect health care workers.
Federal labor officials have threatened to take over three states’ workplace safety programs for such failures. This is considered a warning to others that resisting the federal mandate for vaccines for most healthcare workers and companies with more than 100 employees could lead to states losing their authority over workplace safety.
A former official for the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, said recently that this sends a message that the agency plans to take any defiance of the new federal standards very seriously.
OSHA sent a proposed rule to the White House recently requiring companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or regular COVID-19 testing. President Joe Biden has asked for an expedited rulemaking process. Once the mandate is approved, it will take effect immediately.
OSHA entered an emergency standard in June, including requirements for cleaning, social distancing, personal protective equipment, physical barriers, ventilation and other protections. Even states that have their own workplace safety
agencies for private sector employers fall under the emergency ruling.
The crackdown came against Arizona, South Carolina and Utah for failing to initiate these mandates. “OSHA has worked in good faith to help these three state plans come into compliance,” said Jim Frederick, the agency’s acting director, speaking on a conference call with reporters. “But their continued refusal is a failure to maintain their state plan commitment to thousands of workers in their state.”
OSHA singled out those three states for their active resistance to the emergency rule.
Arizona argued that it wants to put the public policy through a public input process, but labor advocates say that is simply a delay tactic. In addition, worker advocates say that the state has dragged its feet in implementing safety protections for employees since the beginning of the pandemic.
Just recently, the National Nurses United union and professional organization filed a complaint with OSHA accusing Arizona of neglecting its responsibilities to protect workers by meeting the national standard.
To date, OSHA has never taken away a state’s power to regulate workplaces. However, OSHA threatened to take over Arizona’s construction industry in 2014 when it failed to comply with fall protection rules for workers using scaffolds or ladders or working on roofs.
Utah doubled down, deciding to stall on the COVID-19 rules until the federal health care rule expired in December, believing that OSHA would do little about it.
Twenty-four state attorneys general are already gearing up for a fight against the vaccine mandate, including eight states that retain workplace safety authority.
This push-back could set up a major conflict between state and federal regulators.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.