So, a friend called me. She is a lawyer in small town Louisiana. She has been working a few years for a Public Defender’s office in a parish seat. She has been working from home, but now they want her back by next Monday. My friend has been diagnosed with Diabetes Type II. She also suffers from asthma. Does she have to return to work, she asks me. She mentions that the state of Louisiana offered to install plexiglass shields in courtrooms, but the judges in her parish declined the offer. Several of the judges are up for election in the Fall and they fear voter backlash If they spend money on something deemed non-essential by the voters. The state would pay for the shields. But, the judges still fear a negative reaction from the voters.
Oh, and by the way, the parish jail has many cases of the COVID19 virus. Jail inmates appear in court everyday. This is the new reality. COVID19 is never far from most work places. Unfortunately, my friend, like many workers, suffers from various ailments which make the virus very serious. She is in the Public Defender’s office. But, the District attorney’s office is even worse. In an office with perhaps ten lawyers, two have suffered from heart disease and two have survived cancer. And, that is just the lawyers.
I had to tell my friend that at least per federal statutes, there is no protection for workers who fear possible infection. She would probably be entitled to some accommodation, if she was infected herself. But, in regard to possible infection, there is unfortunately no protection, yet.
The AFL-CIO labor union filed suit in the District of Columbia court of appeals against OSHA asking OSHA to issue guidance protecting workers. See Axios report here. According to the report, OSHA has received 3,800 complaints from workers, but has yet to issue any citations to employers. OSHA has guidelines now for the virus, but those are only guidelines. The AFL-CIO is seeking actual requirements to protect workers.