Indiana workers complain companies not taking coronavirus precautions

Gov. encourages companies to 'adapt to the facts'
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Posted at 2:17 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-18 22:58:46-04

INDIANAPOLIS— The Indiana Department of Labor has started to field complaints from workers who say their employers are not taking precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state agency has received approximately six complaints thus far, according to DOL spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland.

RTV6 has received dozens of complaints from employees at companies throughout Central Indiana about everything from cleaning practices to not allowing workers to work from home.

“We are dealing with a situation that requires response unlike few events in our history,” said McFarland.

Typically when DOL receives a complaint from a worker, they send a letter to the company seeking more information.

“If they see something that gives them concern or a violation of a regulation, or if the company doesn’t respond, then it is escalated to a formal complaint,” said McFarland.

The Department of Labor could then perform a safety compliance inspection. Depending on what inspectors find, the company could face fines or a corrective action plan.

Click here to file a formal complaint with IOSHA regarding workplace safety.

RTV6 asked Governor Eric Holcomb Thursday what the state is doing about businesses who are not taking precautions to protect workers from COVID-19.

“I’m discouraged to think that anyone would jeopardize someone else’s health and safety,” Holcomb said. “These are not measures anyone wanted to take. These are measures we have to take.”

Holcomb said the state will take further steps against companies if necessary.

“I would appeal to their sense of decency to adapt to the facts,” Holcomb said.

Employers in Indiana may set work hours at their own discretion, and no Hoosier or federal law or statute requires an employer to close or make accommodations during any emergency situation, according to the Indiana Department of Labor website.

Below, you’ll find the Department of Labor’s answers to commonly asked questions about the coronavirus.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can my employer require me to come to work during a public health emergency?
A: Employers in Indiana may set work hours at their own discretion, and no Hoosier or federal law or statute requires an employer to close or make accommodations during any emergency situation.

Q: Are employers required to pay employees for time missed due to public emergencies?
A: Employees in Indiana must be compensated for all hours worked. Barring a collective bargaining agreement, contract or company policy that states otherwise, employees are not required to be paid for time they did not work.

Q: Can my employer require me to stay home if I only have a cold?
A: Yes, with limitations. An employer may tell an employee to leave or stay home from work if the employee shows symptoms of an infectious disease. The CDC recommends ill employees stay home until at least 24 hours after a fever ends. Employers may ask for a doctor's note stating that the employee can return to work before allowing the employee to return. However, policies such as these are very tricky to implement and can sometimes run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Before implementing any such policy, employers should consult with a human resources specialist or a knowledgeable attorney.

Q: Can I allow my employees to work from home/telework?
A: Yes. Employers may allow employees to work from home (telework) to reduce face-to-face interaction with co-workers, clients or customers. Regardless of the working location, employees must be still paid for all hours worked.

Q: If my employees choose to voluntarily wear facemasks, do I need a written respirator program?
A: Employers may allow the voluntary use of surgical masks even where an exposure assessment shows respirator use is not required. Surgical masks are not considered respirators by OSHA and, as such, are not covered by 29 CFR 1910.134.
Filtering facepieces (dust masks), however, are considered respirators. If the employer determines that respirator use will not in itself create a hazard, employers may provide respirators at the request of employees or permit employees to use their own respirators. If the employer determines that any voluntary respirator use is permissible, the employer shall provide the respirator users with the information contained in 1910.134(d).

Q: Am I required to provide my employees with facemasks and/or hand sanitizer?
A: Employers are required to maintain a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." Unless otherwise required as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for a particular duty or task, employers are not required to provide facemasks to employees. Facemasks should only be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent spread of the illness. Facemasks are crucial for health workers and people taking care of a person in close settings (at a home or health care facility). If you are not infected, the CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or any other respiratory illness.
The OSHA standards are silent on the use of hand sanitizer and, as such, there is no requirement to provide it to employees. The bloodborne pathogen standard specifically requires, “employees wash their hands immediately or as soon as feasible after removal of gloves or other personal protective equipment. Employers shall ensure that employees wash hands and any other skin with soap and water, or flush mucous membranes with water immediately or as soon as feasible following contact of such body areas with blood or other potentially infectious materials.”

Q: Can my employer stop me from wearing a facemask at work?
A: Facemasks are crucial for health workers and people taking care of a person in close settings (at a home or health care facility). If it is not otherwise required by your job as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), your employer may ask you to not wear facemasks while working. Please refer to the CDC recommendations above regarding the use of a facemask