CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Our state's workplace watchdog has seen an uptick in complaints about safety violations since the COVID-19 crisis began.
An SC OSHA spokesperson says the agency has fielded at least 300 queries. 135 of those were official complaints, and 99 of the complaints are actively under investigation
Those 135 complaints included problems such as:
- Lack of or inadequate amount of Personal Protective Equipment
- Individuals working who had symptoms of COVID-19
- Not complying with social distancing
- And employers not listening to/acting on employee complaints
“lf you were unable to protect your employees, you should’t have your employees coming to work. I think that’s the bottom line," said Attorney Elliott Quinn with Steinberg Law Firm in Charleston. “Everybody needs a paycheck, everybody needs a job, employers need to have their businesses open. But no paycheck, no job, no business is worth somebody’s life.”
He said they are already getting calls and handling workers compensation claims from people worried they contracted coronavirus at work.
"There's a nursing home employee, an employee of a jail facility, who believe they contracted it at work. So I expect we'll see more and more of those," Quinn said.
We asked how an employee or attorney would prove where they caught the virus.
"That's gonna be the big hurdle, and I assume that's what employers are going to say," said Quinn. "How do you know you got this at work? Fortunately, the workers compensation law in South Carolina says you don't have to prove you got it at work; you just have to prove you had a substantially heightened risk of getting it at work."
As far as your rights as employee, Quinn said, "The OSHA standards require that you be given PPE needed for your job. It requires you be given hand soap or sanitizer, and clean towels or air dryer to dry your hands. And there's very general standard that an employer has to provide a safe working place. If they know of a hazard, they have to reasonable precautions to protection employees from those."
He said employees can't be made to buy PPE if they need it for work.
If a worker is concerned about work conditions, they can file a SC OSHA complaint to prompt investigation.
If a worker thinks he or she was actually harmed by work conditions - such as contracting COVID-19 at work - that's where worker's compensation comes in.
“I think it’s very important for people to know that under the workers compensation system, you can not be retaliated against for filing a claim,” he said. "You can’t be fired, demoted, hours cut, can’t have paycheck cut. They can’t do anything to you because you file a claim.
The same goes for filing OSHA complaints. An employer would face a big liability if they retaliated.
Lastly, for workers who need to wear PPE at work, the employer has to provide those materials. Quinn said employees can’t be required to buy it themselves. That applies for as long as there is a potential hazard- like this virus.