Making a difference in the age of COVID-19
© istock

American workers have experienced the greatest economic shock in a generation. Within a month of the stock market reaching all-time highs and the unemployment rate holding steady at 3.5 percent – the lowest rate in over 50 years, with 14 states under 3 percent – the coronavirus emerged, prompting a quick and powerful response that dramatically impacted the U.S. economy.

A collection of legislation followed, including the CARES Act that President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE signed into law on March 27, 2020, noting it was “the single-biggest economic relief package in American history” to “deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers, and businesses.” 

The legislation was just the beginning of the historic response, and the Department of Labor (DOL) immediately began to implement numerous new provisions, including: implementing a new system for delivering the weekly $600 supplemental benefit to Unemployment Insurance; issuing regulations to implement the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provided paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave; issuing dozens of new guidance documents; and extending benefits to millions of independent contractors on an unprecedented scale.

ADVERTISEMENT

Within two weeks American workers started receiving their new benefits.

Since March 17, Secretary of Labor Eugene ScaliaEugene ScaliaBusiness groups, universities file lawsuit over new rules targeting H-1B visas Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak Labor secretary's wife tests positive for COVID-19 MORE has convened a daily COVID-19 working group meeting, involving leaders from key agencies, to ensure a timely and robust response to emergent issues. From the onset of the crisis, these agencies have executed a record response, achieving speed and scale.

The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) has published 20 Unemployment Insurance Program Letters, hosted 15 webinars, and posted answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on 23 different topics – all providing technical assistance to states, workers, and businesses in responding to COVID-19. As unemployed workers across the country became eligible for the $600 “plus up” benefit, ETA aided all 50 states in developing the functionality to make payments in their unique systems. To maintain the integrity of the unemployment insurance system, ensuring each dollar goes to aid its intended recipient, ETA has worked with states, the DOL Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and financial institutions to investigate and prevent fraud.

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has simultaneously balanced the critical needs of educating American workers and employers about new rights and benefits and enforcing the law to ensure workers receive the protections they need. To accomplish this, WHD has expedited publication of guidance, including fact sheets for workers and employers in a dozen languages, animated videos and infographic posters for workplaces, 97 new FAQs, and an interactive online tool for determining eligibility. Since April, WHD has hosted 1,100 outreach events through virtual platforms and fielded 250,000 COVID-19-related phone calls. Regarding enforcement, WHD has resolved more than 1,500 compliance actions, already ensuring that employees received more than $1 million owed to them by their employers, with hundreds more actions underway.

Since January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been providing information on coronavirus through its website. OSHA has responded to over 7,300 COVID-19 health and safety complaints.  In addition, OSHA has received over 2,300 COVID-related whistleblower complaints, and over 1,100 have been completed (i.e., completed after investigation or administratively closed with the complainant’s consent). OSHA published guidance to prepare workplaces for responding to COVID-19.  In response to the emergent health and safety risks, OSHA has published 19 industry-specific guidance documents, a range of return-to-work guidance, 12 agency alerts, and three posters that have been translated into as many as 17 languages. All of these efforts complement OSHA’s existing mandatory standards and corresponding enforcement tools to combat the threat of COVID-19 in the workplace.

ADVERTISEMENT

OSHA has also engaged stakeholders through compliance assistance conducting more than 5,000 outreach activities and a total of 1,193 outreach activities related to COVID-19 with important information to protect workers on the job.

DOL has doubled down on its efforts to protect, support, and advance the well-being of American workers, and remains poised for economic recovery. While much has been accomplished, there’s still much to be done. America’s workers stand weathered but stronger and resolute, ready to work, to create, and to employ. The Department of Labor stands right alongside them.

Patrick Pizzella is the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.