Protecting Workers that Provide Essential Services
Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2020). Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch
6 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 31, 2020
States and localities, which retain the right to protect the health and safety of their citizens, have designated more than 55 million Americans as “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most essential workers are employed in health care (30%) and in food and agricultural (21%) (McNicholas & Poydock, 2020). A majority (76%) of all essential health care workers are women, while half of all essential food and agricultural workers are racial and ethnic minorities. Consequently, many women and racial and ethnic minorities are unable to shelter at home or socially distance themselves because they are deemed “essential workers” (Yearby & Mohapatra, 2020). Even though these workers are deemed “essential workers,” they have not been provided with the employment and safety protections (e.g., paid sick leave, health insurance, and workers’ compensation) that are essential to keeping them and their families healthy and safe. To address the lack of economic protections, which is discussed in more detail in Chapter 28, essential workers should be provided with a guaranteed basic income, paid sick leave, health insurance coverage, and survivorship benefits regardless of their worker and/or immigration status (Yearby & Mohapatra, 2020). To keep workers from being killed or otherwise harmed at work, the government (federal and state) must issue mandatory health and safety laws and regulations that are aggressively enforced to prevent workplace COVID-19 infections and deaths. Finally, to ensure that essential workers and their families do not suffer financially if they contract COVID-19, the government (federal and state) and businesses should be financially responsible for the harm caused as a result of a worker’s COVID-19 infection or death.
This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.
Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus, legal responses, pandemic, public health, law, public health law, employment, protecting workers, workers, essential services, essential workers
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