Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Labor Retracts Advisory Letter on Safety Rules for Homework

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Labor Retracts Advisory Letter on Safety Rules for Homework

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Facing a barrage of criticism, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman Wednesday withdrew a federal interpretation letter saying that companies' normal workplace safety obligations also apply to employees who do their work at home.

She said an advisory drafted by departmental officials was informal and was not intended to be taken as a statement of policy for the entire business community.

"It was a letter to one employer. It provided guidance to him on his employees working at home," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "The letter, however, caused widespread confusion and unintended consequences for others. And therefore, as a result of those unintended consequences, I have made a decision to withdraw the letter today."

Herman said, however, that the controversy has raised important questions about what protections Americans who work at home can expect from the government. She said she will convene a conference of business and labor leaders and set up an interagency task force to conduct a wide-ranging study of the issue.

"We acknowledge... that employers are responsible for employee safety and health, but we don't know what that means and how that applies to these new work arrangements in the home today. That is why we need a national dialogue on this subject," Herman said.

The letter was written by officials at the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to a Texas-based credit services company that had sought advice about moving some of its sales executives into home offices.

In response, OSHA provided specific examples in an area of law that had remained unclear, even as the number of Americans regularly working at home has swelled to almost 20 million.

Such federal agency "interpretation" letters to individual companies often are made public, and other businesses look to them for general guidance. …

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