As states lift stay-at-home provisions and businesses reopen, many industries are facing a new landscape of worker protections and safety measures in order to keep workers and the public safe. State Attorneys General (AGs) are paying close attention to how industries treat their workers as the country begins the process of getting back to work.
AGs have demonstrated that they are advocating for workers during the COVID crisis. For example, in Massachusetts, AG Maura Healey launched a complaint line for employees to report unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19. Similarly, Michigan AG Dana Nessell released an FAQ for constituents regarding employee rights and employer obligations during COVID-19.
Some AGs are banding together to call out particular industries or employers regarding worker safety. Earlier this month, a coalition of 12 AGs, led by the Illinois AG, called on the nation’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer to strengthen measures to protect the health and safety of workers during the pandemic. In the letter, the AGs sought to ensure that the retailer adheres to all applicable state directives and commits to certain safety measures including installing shields or barriers, providing masks for employees, and reducing the number of customers permitted in stores, among other initiatives. The AGs also called on the company to adopt a policy of paid sick leave with certain specified minimum protections.
The world’s largest online retailer is facing similar pressure to show increased worker protections during the COVID crisis. In May, AG Maura Healey led 13 AGs calling on the retailer to provide data on the number of workers who have tested positive or died from the coronavirus. New York AG Letitia James followed suit this week by interviewing workers at various facilities in the state to investigate the company’s safety practices during the pandemic. Questions from the AG’s office focused on enforcement of social distancing rules, workers’ access to personal protective equipment, and its documentation of positive coronavirus cases at facilities. Reports indicate that AG’s office is focused on retaliatory practices against workers who complained about safety measures at the company’s warehouses.
However, the retail industry is not the only focus of AG scrutiny. As demand for automobiles rebounds, automakers are ramping up production in factories with new requirements in place to help ensure worker safety. Some automakers are requiring employees to fill out daily health-screening documents, taking temperatures of employees at the beginning of each work day, and mandating face shields or masks throughout the shift. Similarly, AG Brian Frosh of Maryland led a coalition of 20 AGs in urging President Trump to take action to improve working conditions at meatpacking facilities across the country. The lesson thus far during this crisis is that any industry that puts workers in close proximity to each other should expect AG scrutiny and possible investigation as states start lifting lock down restrictions.
“Without paid sick leave, many employees will go to work sick, endangering the health of their colleagues and customers,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Forcing workers to choose between working sick or losing a paycheck is a risk we cannot afford to take in the midst a global health crisis.”