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Employment Law - Company Obligations To Work-at-home Employees

osha act employers health

The purpose of the OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT OF 1970 (OSH Act), 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 651 et seq, is to "assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions." (Section 2(b)). The OSH Act applies to a private employer who has any employees doing work in a workplace in the United States. It requires these employers to provide employment and a place of employment that are free from recognized, serious hazards, and to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards and regulations (Sections 4 and 5 of the OSH Act). By regulation, OSHA does not cover individuals who, in their own residences, employ persons for the purpose of performing domestic household tasks.

OSHA has never conducted inspections of home offices, and such an inspection would, in fact, be contrary to OSHA policy. OSHA will not hold employers liable for employees' home offices and does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees. If OSHA receives a complaint about a home office, the complainant will be advised of OSHA policy. If an employee makes a specific request, OSHA may informally let employers know of complaints about home office conditions but will not follow-up with the employer or employee.

OSHA will, however, conduct inspections of other home-based worksites, such as home manufacturing operations, when OSHA receives a complaint or referral that indicates that a violation of a safety or health standard exists that threatens physical harm or that an imminent danger exists, including reports of a work-related fatality. The scope of the inspection in an employee's home will be limited to the employee's work activities. Employers are responsible in home worksites for hazards caused by materials, equipment, or work processes which the employer provides or requires to be used in an employee's home.

In April 2001 the Bush administration announced plans to call for an amendment to the Occupational Safety and Health Act to preclude home office inspections when employees primarily work on the telephone, computer, and/or with other electronic devices. As part of the administration's larger New Freedom Initiative, the move was intended to help disabled workers buy computers and other equipment needed to work at home, without OSHA intervention, in return for tax incentives to encourage employers to provide such equipment.

FURTHER READINGS

Bureau of National Affairs. 1975. Occupational Safety and Health Cases. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs.

Lave, Lester B. 1982. Quantitative Risk Assessment in Regulation. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute.

Lofgren, Don J. 1989. Dangerous Premises: An Insider's View of OSHA Enforcement. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

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