Tennessee saw a sharp increase in workplace complaints as the COVID-19 virus swept across the state. The spike in complaints began when Governor Lee declared a state of emergency on March 12. Through March and April, the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) received over 500 complaints of hazardous working conditions. Nearly two thirds of these complaints relate to COVID-19.
Many of the TOSHA complaints allege that employers are failing to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19. In one anonymous complaint, an asthmatic factory employee expresses concern over coworkers coming to work sick. In another report, a staff member at a rehab facility explains that she receives no protective equipment despite having close contact with patients. Other complaints expose shortages of masks, coworkers’ failure to wash hands or social distance, and supervisors requiring employees to come to work after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
When employers refuse to enforce health and safety measures, they put employees in an untenable position. Some may be forced to choose between preserving their health (and that of their loved ones) and keeping their job. Employee safety is an even greater concern as many businesses across the state begin reopening. Many workers are fearful of returning to work with inadequate protection and potentially sick customers or coworkers.
Unfortunately, the state is doing very little to ease these concerns. TOSHA responds to COVID-19 workplace complaints with merely a letter to the employer. As TOSHA administrator Larry Hunt told the Nashville Post: “We are not really taking any action . . . we do not have jurisdiction over those issues.”
As the virus spreads across the state, many vulnerable employees risk exposure—or worse—as a result of their employers’ negligence. Though the state recommends safety guidelines for businesses, lack of enforcement renders such recommendations nearly powerless
If you or a loved one suffer illness or injury as a result of your employer’s response to COVID-19, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at David Randolph Smith for a free case evaluation.