NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Home Work Regulations Still Possible

January 13, 2000

Federal regulators still claim they have the authority to regulate work at home, even though Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman has withdrawn the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) at-home work compliance interpretation letter.

Heritage Foundation analysts say this uncertainty places nearly 15 million employees who work at home, as well as their employers, in legal limbo and is likely to curtail the expansion of telecommuting opportunities.

  • The 1970 OSH Act makes employers responsible for making sure workers have safe and healthy workplaces, but it does not define what a workplace is.
  • According to a January 4, 1999, press release from Secretary Herman, "in cases where employees are doing dangerous work at home and the hazards are well known...the safety and health rules are clear."
  • Thus, the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act appears to cover anyone who works with a computer at home and is exposed to well-known ergonomic hazards related to their chair, desk, keyboard and mouse.

Many employers erroneously think OSHA rules do not cover telecommuters, while others remain confused about their responsibilities. Even the Secretary of Labor admits, "the rules are not so clear."

OSHA worked for two years on the compliance interpretation letter while also working on the ergonomics rule. The withdrawn letter specifically said home ergonomic hazards were covered, which strongly suggests it intends to apply the proposed ergonomics rule to telecommuters and employees who take work home.

Source: D. Mark Wilson, "OSHA's Retreat Does Not End The Threat To Working At Home," Executive Memorandum No. 641, January 10, 2000, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Washington D.C. 20002, (202) 546-4400.


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