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Lawmaker wants to give Utah workers more protections in pandemic

Posted at 4:39 PM, Dec 04, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker is contemplating a bill that would strengthen worker protections in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said she has received numerous complaints from constituents about workplace safety in light of COVID-19. The complaints range from a lack of sanitization and personal protective equipment to pay issues.

"Constituents reaching out to me concerned about workplace safety, that they were not given a choice to stay home unless it was without pay," she said. "People expressing a desire to have access to hazard pay because of the increased risk of being workplace because of COVID. Then getting into not having the right safety protocols."

When employees have complained to their workplace superiors, Rep. Dailey-Provost said it has been disregarded.

"This is a really big deal especially when you have people deemed essential workers," she said in an interview Friday with FOX 13.

Since the pandemic began in mid-March, the state's COVID-19 Unified Command has documented 1,263 workplace outbreaks. That breaks down to 9,215 individual cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths.

Last month, a FOX 13 investigation found the Utah Labor Commission had received 149 complaints about worker safety from February to mid-October, and the agency's occupational safety division did four inspections. The Utah Labor Commission did not immediately provide updated numbers on Friday. But a spokesman for the commission told FOX 13 that once Governor Gary Herbert's statewide mask mandate went into effect on Nov. 8, they received approximately 200 complaints about workplace safety in the first week of it.

The Utah Labor Commission offers guidance for businesses navigating workplace safety issues with COVID-19. It also offers grants to small businesses who struggle to pay employees forced to take time off to quarantine because they tested positive for the virus.

Rep. Dailey-Provost said she is looking to see whether the labor commission needs more teeth to investigate and enforce violations of state orders related to COVID-19.

Earlier this year, the Utah State Legislature passed a bill that actually granted immunity to businesses whose employees or customers were exposed to the virus. Rep. Dailey-Provost voted against it.

"It may be necessary to run legislation to clarify that workplace safety is not part of that immunity," she said.