The chairman of a House oversight subcommittee said yesterday that he planned to introduce legislation to ensure the Labor Department lives up to its pledge to exempt employers from liability for health and safety violations by employees working out of their home offices.
"We will introduce legislation next week to clarify the OSH [Occupational Safety and Health] Act," Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) told a hearing on the Labor Department's health and safety policy for workers who telecommute to their jobs from home.
Hoekstra did not specify what the legislation would do, but an aide said Hoekstra wanted to make sure the law, and not just an internal directive, exempted employers from any liability for white-collar employees who work out of home offices.
Yesterday's hearing by the House Education and Workforce subcommittee was called to look into the circumstances surrounding the flip-flop earlier this month by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration over who was responsible for health and safety violations when an employee works at home.
An OSHA letter of interpretation made public earlier this month clearly placed the liability for any health and safety violations at home with the employer. Within 48 hours of news stories about the letter, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman withdrew the letter. But her action left unclear the underlying law on which the department was relying for its interpretation.
Earlier this week, Assistant Secretary of Labor Charles N. Jeffress announced that OSHA would not hold employers liable for home office violations and that his agency would issue a directive within the next 30 days spelling out the government policy for all OSHA employees.
But Hoekstra and several members of his committee yesterday said they were skeptical OSHA would keep its word and even more worried that a future administration could change the directive in the absence of legislation.
Under its new policy, OSHA will continue to hold employers liable for hazardous work performed in employees' homes and reserves the right to inspect home work sites if it receives a complaint. Some lawmakers at yesterday's hearings challenged OSHA's right to inspect homes even under those circumstances.