As vaccination rates inch closer to 50% in North Carolina, advocates and health officials continue to push for the adoption of workplace safety rules to protect the thousands of at-risk and essential workers still on the front lines of COVID-19 fight.
At a hearing in Wake County Superior Court on Thursday, June 10, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law will argue that the North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) had a duty to adopt workplace safety measures in light of COVID-19’s deadly impact statewide. The hearing will take place virtually at 11:00 a.m., and is open to the public and press.
The case arises out of the NCDOL’s denial of a petition for stronger COVID-19 safety measures by several civil rights groups in November 2020.
“There is a lot riding on this decision, especially as more people return to the office,” said Pilar Whitaker, counsel with the Economic Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Unfortunately, we are still in a pandemic and the CDC admits it still does not know how long vaccine immunity lasts, or how effective the vaccines are against variants. Essential workers still need greater protection in the face of these unknowns.”
Citing the risks of workplace transmission, the civil rights groups asked the NCDOL to adopt COVID-19 workplace standards, such as masks and social distancing, in October last year. The department declined to issue any such standards, claiming, among other things, that virus had not proven to cause death or serious physical harm, and did not qualify as an occupational hazard.
The decision will determine whether NCDOL properly denied the groups’ request under North Carolina law. Summer 2020 saw an exponential increase in workplace safety complaints, with 80 percent of complaints in North Carolina related to COVID-19.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.