The President of the United States Joe Biden has issued his plan to realise an economic stimulus package that will battle the effects of COVID-19 and ensure essential workers workplace safety. While the 1.9 trillion dollar fund includes plans to increase the production of the vaccination as well as the number of COVID-19 testing facilities made available to the public, the proposal also aims to tackle worker safety through a two step plan.
As the President has indicated an intention to provide aid to American civilians and businesses that are struggling with the pandemic we unpack the various parts of the relief package and how they can assist employees and businesses.
Direct Payment To Individuals
The proposed plan includes stimulus payments of up to $1400 per a person based on their respected income. It must be noted that this payment will be over the $600 citizens received in 2020 as part of their relief packages.
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Extended Unemployment Insurance Benefits
This provision aims to extend the amount of time for unemployment eligibility through to September 2021, this will allow federally funded benefits to continue with many civilians receiving the $400 a week benefit through the system.
Extension and Expansion of Paid Leave Requirements
Expanding on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act the stimulus package will extend leave for sick leave, medical leave and paid family leave. This means that large and medium enterprises with less than 500 employees are expected to pay those employers for their leave taken as long as it is one of the three listed. Small enterprises with less than 50 employees were previously exempt from paying employees for this leave however under President Joe Biden’s package they will be required to do so.
The president calls for frontline and essential workers to be provided with a sizable, but as of now unspecified sum, for doing the jobs during the pandemic. While this remains unclear with regards to who will have to pay and who is exempt further details will be revealed in the coming days.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards
The relief package has plans that include asking congress to enable OSHA to adopt a nationwide COVID-19 pandemic protection standards for employees. This means that employees that were previously deemed outside of OSHA’s jurisdiction, such as public sector workers, will now be covered. Part of the funding being approved will also be directed toward the administration so they may develop and enforce the rules efficiently.
Minimum wage will be increased nationally to $15 per hour from the previous $7.25. Sub minimum wage as well as the subminimum wage will be eliminated for specific minority groups such as workers with disabilities. It is important to note that this specific key point will possibly be removed from the package and reviewed individually.
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How will this fund affect health and safety compliance
President Joe Biden has made it very clear that the funds will be used for increasing safety so what can we expect. OSHA has been told to update their safety guidelines to assist businesses however they also have the power to penalize businesses who do not comply with the safety standards being developed.
OSHA Emergency COVID 19 Guidelines
Previously unable to issue new standards to assist in reducing the spread of COVID-19 the new President Joe Biden has instructed OSHA to reconsider the rules as part of his relief package strategy. This comes after many employee unions pushed for a reissue of OSHA standards that were available during the Trump administration. These guidelines provided employers with the opportunity to choose the guidelines they wished to follow as OSHA did not have the ability to enforce any further guidelines surrounding the pandemic and left employees vulnerable.
The new guidelines being introduced include mandatory social distancing, hand washing breaks and hand sanitizer stations, mandatory masks and communicating with employers if a worker has tested positive for COVID-19. While these guidelines may seem daunting to implement and in some cases difficult businesses are adapting to the situation and implementing smart systems and applications to ensure the maintain health and safety compliance with OSHA and provide employees with peace of mind.
The new safety guidelines have been widely accepted by businesses who are looking to combat the spread of COVID-19 while attempting to run successful businesses without putting civilians at risk, particularly as the prior administration took a more relaxed approach to the virus which resulted in frustration for employees and unions. With employees feeling safer and heard the administration’s relief fund could provide people with much needed assistance in implementing correctly.
While many labor experts saw the administration moving forward with this relief fund as the responsible next step the stimulus package still has a long way to go in the battle for occupational safety and health.