GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)- As businesses continue to reopen, what rights do workers have when it comes to health concerns?
Employers in South Carolina are required to provide a safe and healthy worksite– Covid-19 makes that more complicated.
“We’ve had quite a few inquiries both from employers and employees,” said David De Vita, who is the owner and president of Carolina Safety Consultants. “Employers [are] trying to figure out what kind of protocols to put in place to reopen their businesses, whether they should be wearing masks, social distancing.”
Carolina Safety Consultants help businesses stay in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA.
According to attorney John Reckenbeil, making a complaint to OSHA is the most effective tool employees have to force their company to take precautions.
“There’s really no ability to sue your employer to say, you know, ‘hey, you made me sick or you’re about to make me sick,” he said.
Those who need to quarantine may be able to take their leave without being fired under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Reckenbeil. He said employees wouldn’t be entitled to pay during leave, but they may qualify unemployment.
Anita Worthy, who is an environment and health safety consultant with Greenville Safety Consultants, said it’s best for employees to go to their employer first with a concern because they often might not know about the issue and typically want to be in compliance. She also suggested hiring a consulting firm to check out potential violations, which she says is cheaper than getting an OSHA citation.
“OSHA does have the ability to come in and make employers’ life miserable,” Reckenbeil said.
Since mid-March, South Carolina OSHA has received more than 300 inquires about Covid-19 safety, according to a spokesperson. Of those, only 135 were followed up to become “official” complaints. Among the concerns reported were lack of personal protective equipment, individuals working who had coronavirus symptoms, non-compliance with social distancing, and employers not acting on employee complaints.
OSHA has released new, stricter guidelines that will go into effect Tuesday, so the number of complaints could be going up.
“Employers need to just understand that ignorance is not an acceptable excuse,” De Vita said. “You as a business owner, you as an employer, are responsible to know what the guidelines are and what OSHA requires.”
You can view the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for businesses and workplaces here.