How to determine if a business is COVID-19 safe? Create a restaurant-style grading system

By Archon Fung, David Weil, and Mary Graham
Op-Ed piece for Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2020


Uncertainty and fear of a virulent pathogen are powerful deterrents to social and economic engagement, in addition to the record levels of post-Great Recession unemployment. Nearly 70% of respondents in a national poll published in early May said they were uncomfortable with the idea of shopping in clothing stores and almost 80% expressed misgivings about eating in restaurants, regardless of government reopening plans.

To counter this fear and uncertainty, government standards and a ratings system should be put in place.

Governments would need to provide and enforce specific workplace safety and health standards for businesses in different sectors — such as retail establishments, restaurants and personal-service providers — that would protect workers and customers. Those would be followed by a simple ratings system that communicates to workers and customers which businesses are doing their utmost to protect public health and which ones are treating the novel coronavirus lackadaisically.

Public safety begins with worker safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to issue emergency COVID-19 standards. Instead of enforceable and robust standards, OSHA has offered only loose guidance that it acknowledges “creates no new legal obligations.” As of mid-May, OSHA had received more than 13,600 COVID-19-related complaints but had issued no citations or penalties. The result of that laxity has been rapid COVID-19 spread and death in food processing plants, retail outlets and nursing home facilities in the United States.

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David Weil is Dean and Professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management. He served as US Wage and Hour Administrator at the Department of Labor during the last three years of the Obama administration. He is a leading international expert on workplace and labor market policy and was the Peter and Deborah Wexler Professor of Management at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business before coming to Brandeis. The materials on this site arise from analysis contained in The Fissured Workplace and a growing body of research regarding the fundamental restructuring of employment and its impacts on workers and businesses. It also discusses approaches to dealing with the fissured workplace developed during the Obama administration as well as new ideas and efforts being discussed and undertaken today. 


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