Last week, Virginia became a “standout in the South” by enacting legislation to protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination in the workplace. The “Virginia Values Act” allows LGBTQ workers to sue for damages if they are mistreated or fired on the basis of their sexual orientation, and BloombergLaw reports that it also eliminates the state’s cap on damages that a worker can be awarded. While a minority of states have passed similar legislation, the bill is a significant step toward securing nationwide protections. This also comes as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s protections against sex discrimination in Title VII already encompasses those protections. Virginia’s law will go in to effect July 1st.
BloombergLaw reports that hundreds of meat workers in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19. Facilities in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota have all reported outbreaks, leading to concerns about worker safety among personnel essential to maintaining food supply. These jobs are labor-intensive, and require close contact between workers throughout the plant. Some plants have suspended operations during the outbreak, but “most farms and food companies” are continuing to operate although a source told NPR that the risks and pressures have made “the decline in available workers… severe.”
The risks in the meat industry are extreme but not unique; throughout the country, workers are facing threats to their health and security to perform essential jobs This week, the FDA issued new guidance to employers throughout the food-service and grocery industries. This guidance includes many already-common practices of facial coverings, social distancing, and protocols for assessing worker health during every shift to prevent wider exposure.
But The Washington Post reports that the FDA’s power is limited. The FDA’s regulatory authority extends to food safety, not general working conditions, and they are not able to require establishments to limit the public capacity of workplaces or enforce any stringent rules. Many local governments have filled this gap, including Washington, D.C. Miami, FL and the state of Maryland, but some are looking to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step in. The bulk of OSHA’s response has been non-binding, non-enforceable “alerts” suggesting safety tips. The Hill published an opinion piece by Justice at Work’s Michal Felsen calling for emergency temporary regulations to protect frontline workers and fulfill the agency’s mission.