The United States has one of the weakest systems of employee protections of any industrialized country in the world. Just recently, the ITUC 2020 Global Rights Index found the United States to be the worst of any industrialized/advanced economy for the violation of workers’ rights. The United States Is quickly becoming one of the few advanced countries to fail to protect worker dignity by prohibiting workplace bullying, has some of the weakest protections in the world for unionizing, and is one of only three countries that provides no guaranteed paid maternity leave for all workers. The current legal system in the United States allows employers to violate employee rights with impunity, as many rights are simply not legally protected, and where there are protections, there is either lax enforcement or there are weak penalties. Funding for enforcement agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, and the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) have been slashed over the past 30 years.
This lack of legal protections and lax enforcement of the protections that do exist does not mean that employers are required to violate workers fundamental human rights but that they are afforded the opportunity to do so. Lax enforcement does not mean that employers should violate the few legal rights that workers have, but it signals that they can if they so choose. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed that far too many employers look to violate even the few rights that are protected in the United States.
After hearing from numerous workers from across the country who believed their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, and their fundamental right to safe work were being violated by their employers, the National Workplace Bullying Coalition (NWBC) decided to conduct a more formal exploratory study. This report is the conclusion of that initial study.
The findings, even in the current legal environment, are shocking and atrocious. Steps must be taken by enforcement bodies, agencies, worker advocates, and worker representatives as soon as possible to protect the health, safety, and lives of workers.
The results are not promising, and in terms of employer responses during this time when workers lives are literally on the line, the findings can best be summed up as the Bad, the Worse, and downright Disgusting. Based on the results of the surveys, employers are:
- Not shutting down face-to-face out of concern for worker safety
- Not granting leave
- Not granting workplace accommodations
- Not following safety measures suggested by OSHA, the CDC, and WHO.
Rather, educators and other workers are being exposed to potential cesspools of disease with no regard for their safety and wellbeing, no matter their underlying health conditions. We see that for many workers, rather than employers standing up to protect their health and safety during this 100-year pandemic, their employers have decided to resort to the worst forms of bullying. Workers are bullied into deciding between financial ruin (by leaving their employment) or putting their lives at risk to bring home a paycheck.
This report details the findings from this survey, explains the implications of these findings, and lays out recommendations for employers, enforcement agencies, unions, rank-and-file workers, and legislators.
We hope this report will be acted upon expeditiously by those who can take steps to protect all workers by:
- Shutting down the reopening
- Assuring workplace accommodations where reopening takes place
- Assuring safe working conditions for all where work takes place or has to continue.