South Carolina governor Henry McMaster has taken it upon himself to try and “force people back to work” by ordering state workforce agencies to stop participating in COVID-19-related unemployment benefit programs. In addition, the governor has come out strongly against local mask mandates recently (as he has in the past), arguing that governments should not be able to require masks. These two initiatives combined have the potential to cause genuine danger to South Carolina’s workers, and potential issues between employees and employers once people are back in the office.
Employers Have The Power
Workers in South Carolina have faced a difficult period during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly due to a high initial positivity rate that has hampered vaccine rollout efficacy (statistics from HealthData.gov show that the state had the fifth-worst vaccine response, beyond Utah, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky). A heavy emphasis from McMaster and other state officials on ‘freedom’ and ‘personal choice’ as to whether to wear masks have also put workers in danger, given the assumed presence of at least some who refuse to vaccinate.
Because of this potentially hazardous environment, both employers and workers have cause for concern upon a return to work. Without governmental mandates, the choice as to how careful each workplace will continue to be regarding COVID-19 exposure is left to the individual employer. This may be seen as a victory for ‘normalcy,’ but while some employers will take appropriate precautions, others may choose to place profit over safety.
What Are My Options?
If you are a South Carolina worker and have an employer who neglects to take what may be deemed reasonable precautions, you have options to use in seeking a change. Perhaps the most commonly used method in this day and age is the OSHA complaint. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration will investigate complaints of this nature, though it is highly recommended to try and resolve these issues in-house before filing.
In addition to OSHA complaints, one might think that a workers’ compensation claim would be possible, depending on the specific situation, particularly if you actually contract COVID-19 at work. However, South Carolina’s legislature allowed a bill that would extend workers’ compensation coverage to cover COVID-19 cases to fail in committee. As of this writing, workers’ compensation coverage is not available if you contract COVID-19 at work; it is a good idea to consult an experienced attorney to help determine how best to proceed.
Call A South Carolina Employment Law Attorney
While one person cannot change governmental policy, you can protect yourself as much as possible by being aware of your rights as you go back to the office. Calling a South Carolina employment law attorney can help to get any questions you may have answered. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has handled questions like this before, and is ready and willing to try and help you with yours. Call our offices today to schedule a consultation.