Tuesday, April 13, 2010

contemporary labor history and the state

In the early 2000s, a series of suits were brought against employers regarding Federal guidelines on restroom usage. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations specified that employers must provide restrooms for all workers, but not necessarily where those restrooms would be located. The result? Female workers were given diapers to wear on the job.

Marc Linder, legal labor historian at University of Iowa law school, has written about this history extensively. Here is a snippet of some of the questions addressed by Linder to an OSHA director:

Question: Do you have some sense of what the effect of the interpretation
has been? Has it produced greater compliance by employers? More complaints by
workers? More citations issued by OSHA? Or are there other ways of determining
what the effect has been?

Response: Within the first year after issuing the interpretation, articles
appeared in several newspapers around the country, and OSHA's office in
Washington, DC received calls from various employer and employee groups asking
questions about the interpretation. We believe that the interpretation has
produced a greater awareness and sensitivity about this issue among the employer
community, as well as providing direction to OSHA staff in responding to
complaints and questions regarding this issue.

Since we have not asked our area offices to keep track of employee
complaints regarding §1910.141(c)(1)(i) and employee access to toilet
facilities, we have no way of knowing if the interpretation itself has produced
more complaints. But, we asked our area offices to send copies of all citations
issued to employers for failure to allow employee access to toilet facilities.
By the end of 2002, OSHA had issued only about twelve such citations.

In discussions with our area offices, we have found that the interpretation
has helped the OSHA Area Directors and compliance officers encourage agreements
between employers and workers on how to provide needed access to toilet
facilities. Issuing a citation does not in itself resolve the problem.
Therefore, the Area Directors and compliance officers first encourage employers
and employees to work together to see how they can resolve their differences and
create a system/procedure that will work in that particular workplace for that
specific employer and employee(s).
The full report is here.

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