Essential workers have been on the frontlines in the past months, risking exposure to the virus to continue providing essential services, often for low pay and without the option of staying home and receiving unemployment. Their rights, or lack thereof, have been one of the main parts of a national discussion as COVID-19 has thrown United States’ infrastructure and working conditions into sharp contrast with other developed nations. As some states begin the first phase of reopening, it is not only essential workers who are having to leave the relative safety of their homes, and many workers are uncomfortable with the protection and accountability measures enacted by the government to ensure their safety in the workplace during this pandemic.
On May 8th, Pennsylvania transitioned 24 counties to phase yellow, starting the process of reopening in chosen locations. During this phase, businesses, unless specifically noted in the reopening plan, may resume while following guidance mandated here by Gov. Tom Wolf. But what if businesses don’t follow these mandates or employees still don’t feel safe to return to work? There are depressingly few options. Gov. Tom Wolf says that workers have “the ultimate sanction” to decide not to come into work. But when refusing to return to work is tantamount to quitting, that’s not an option for most people. What else can you do? You can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), contact your local law enforcement (don’t call 911 or emergency services), contact the Department of Health or other relevant agencies. But as Gov. Tom Wolf has already acknowledged, the Government of Pennsylvania does not have the ability to enforce widespread workplace protections. So far, PA state police have issued 25 warnings and one citation. Citations only result in a fine of $300 at their highest.
This leaves workers concerned about their health in a very difficult position. Here are some recommendations on how to handle this situation if you find yourself in the position of having to go back to work before you feel comfortable to do so:
- Familiarize yourself with the state mandated reopening business guidelines and to report, with the option to do so anonymously, any safety guidelines you see violated.
- If it is still an option to work remotely, do so.
- If your work is not providing PPE, and no action has been taken to address the violation after reporting it, do your best to wear your own PPE and follow social distancing protocols.
- Do not touch your face.
- When you get home, disrobe and wash your clothes immediately and then take a shower.
Because this is such a novel situation we are in, legal precedents have yet to be set. If you cannot find PPE in your area, the resource section on our website has links to how to make your own masks and disinfectant under “Protective Guidance.”
To file a complaint through OSHA, click here.
To file a complaint through the Department of Health, click here.
Yours in Strength,
The Take Back Control Team