Biden labor policy likely to feature stronger OSHA enforcement, COVID-19 action

Employers of all sizes and industries are likely to see changes to their regulatory environment after presumptive president-elect Joe Biden is installed, according to HR Dive.

Because of the low likelihood of a progressive bloc in the Senate, Biden’s presidency will not have its preferred suite of legislative options available as it begins. But it can start to reverse some of President Donald Trump’s executive orders and also issue some of its own.

Multiple sources that spoke with HR Dive said they believe executive orders and updated enforcement of existing laws will be the primary labor focus of the Biden administration, especially in the short-term, along with managing a COVID-19 response that incorporates stronger measures for employee safety.

“I think we’re likely to see a focus on relief and recovery efforts, in particular […] through a lens of what workers need to work safely in this moment,” Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs and legal counsel at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning policy think tank, told HR Dive. “No one having to return to work in an unsafe situation; looking at ways to ensure that workers are not denied employment insurance protections,” she added.

Coronavirus response and safety

First and foremost, the nation is still dealing with a pandemic that is in the midst of a “second wave.”  OSHA is expected to enact emergency temporary standards, such as workplace safety and sanitation guidelines for COVID-19, according to the Biden platform, which also called for doubling the number of OSHA investigators and a “restart package” to help business owners “cover the costs of operating safely, including things like plexiglass and PPE.”

Those in industries which rely on low-wage, hourly workers, such as restaurant, retail, food service and hospitality, should closely watch for action on tipped wages, minimum wage and worker classification, Myrna L. Maysonet, partner and chief diversity officer at Greenspoon Marder, LLP, told HR Dive.

“Another area where I think you’re going to see immediate impact is [OSHA], and in law enforcement guidelines around the coronavirus,” Maysonet added. “[T]he difference in [Biden’s] view of the effects of coronavirus and the protection of employees is where I think we’ll see a drastic change early on.” She said this is likely to affect manufacturing and food production companies, among others.

Democratic politicians and worker advocacy groups have admonished OSHA’s actions under the Trump administration during the pandemic, citing a failure to contain the virus in the interest of keeping business going and accusing the agency of dragging its feet on enforcement. Meat producers JBS Food and Smithfield and retail giant Amazon are among the companies criticized for their practices. Maysonet cautioned employers to expect stronger penalties for violations in the future.