News & Commentary

March 26, 2020

Minnie Che

Minnie Che is a student at Harvard Law School.

In light of covid-19, hospitals are implementing tight restrictions on visitor policies – even for pregnant women in labor. New York hospitals are prohibiting pregnant women to have their midwives or husbands in the room while they are giving birth. This new policy is an attempt to limit the spread of covid-19 amongst expecting mothers, newborns, and healthcare workers. Because hospital staff and patients are at an increased risk of infection, every pregnant woman must be tested upon entry into the hospital, required to wear masks during labor, and their labor rooms limited only to hospital personnel. This means that women will not have access to any emotional support during labor and will be alone when a nurse or doctor is not attending to them. Over 300,000 women have signed a petition to protest these new policies, especially because others in the room can notify nurses if something happens in the case that the patient in labor cannot. These new hospital restrictions have resulted in some mothers opting for home births, fleeing the state, or using virtual forms of communication with loved ones during labor.

Industries where workers are required and depended on to continue showing up to work include healthcare workers, first responders, firefighters, police officers, paramedics, medical researchers, and other frontline responders. Because of the importance of this work during the national emergency, Starbucks is offering a free coffee for these workers through May 3. Starbucks has recently shifted to a drive-thru and delivery-only model in response to the outbreak, with some stores closing. In the same vein, Uber is also offering free meals and discounted rides to healthcare employees in certain regions of the United States who are involved in helping to fight the spread of covid-19. Apple is donating supplies to health professionals, and Walmart is opening its parking lots to serve first responders who may have been exposed to covid-19.

With the nation shifting to working remotely in response to covid-19, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued temporary accommodations to the employment-eligibility requirements to meet public health restrictions. The requirement at issue is the Immigration and Nationality Act’s mandate that employers review documentation verifying employment eligibility in the presence of the employee within three days of hiring the employee. In light of the pandemic, employers will now be allowed to review the Form I-9, Section 2 documents via video link, fax, email, etc. rather than in person. Employers may also inspect copies of those documents rather than the original documents themselves. Employers choosing to review documents remotely must follow certain steps. DHS’s accommodation does not change the deadlines of a Form I-9 review but simply grants a temporary and discretionary suspension of in-person verification. This exception is not applicable If employees are still physically present at work.

In New York, thousands of business have shut down because of the pandemic. Many employers have chosen to lay off their workers to allow them to collect unemployment benefits, leading to a record number of unemployment claims in the state. The Department of Labor is overwhelmed by these numbers, receiving 250,000 visits to their website each day and over 1.7 million calls a week. Although a person may begin their application for unemployment online, they must call the Labor Department to complete their application with an agent. Because of the amount of calls and lack of personnel, many people are unable to finish filing for unemployment. The Department of Labor has announced that they are working to hire more staff to answer calls, extending phone hours, increasing the bandwidth capacity of its website, setting up virtual call centers so that staff can work remotely, and implementing a filing system so that people can file for unemployment on certain days of the week based on their last names.

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