Terri Gerstein Calls on States to Enact Comprehensive COVID-Specific Workplace Safety Standards in the Wake of OSHA’s Failure

Terri Gerstein (‘95), Director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program, co-authored an opinion for Morning Consult citing federal failure to protect workers from COVID and the state initiatives that are leading the way (“With OSHA as an Employer Advice Columnist, States and Cities Should Protect Workers from COVID-19,” Aug. 10). “Meanwhile, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has horrendously failed in enforcing the law, instead serving as an advice columnist for employers, issuing a smorgasbord of vague guidance and recommendations that employers should ‘strive’ to implement, if possible. … This combination — workers getting sick and OSHA’s conspicuous absence — doesn’t seem to offer much hope. But Virginia recently showed a possible way forward. … More states should follow their lead.” Terri advocated for robust state and local protective measures including passing COVID-specific workplace safety standards, mandating workplace mitigation measures, legally requiring employer preparedness plans, strengthening anti-retaliation provisions and enacting paid sick days. “States and localities may hesitate to take on what is, in many cases, a new role for them. But government exists to serve the people and to meet urgent and ever-changing needs. The moment calls for bold leadership. … It won’t be easy; politics is complex, and corporate interests will fight tooth and nail against new workplace protections. But people’s lives are in the balance. It would be government malpractice not even to try.”