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Labor Laws to Protect Healthcare Workers

Do you feel safe on the job? Just imagine what it was like before these labor laws.

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

Labor Laws to Protect Healthcare Workers

Healthcare workers may take the laws and standards that protect them on the job for granted. After all, some of them have been around for more than a generation, and we can’t quite imagine what the workplace was like before they were implemented. Other labor laws are more recent, and our memories of “life before” are clearer.

In honor of Labor Day, here’s a look at some of the laws and protections now in place to protect healthcare workers:

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this statute “establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments.” The FLSA also establishes a requirement that employers pay an overtime rate of “not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay…after 40 hours of work in a workweek.” It was enacted in 1938, but it has been amended numerous times in subsequent years.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act
This act was established in 1970 to make sure that people could be confident of having “safe and healthful working conditions.” It created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the federal level, and it said that states could run their own safety programs if they could measure up to the federal program. Employers are required to make sure there aren’t any hazards--and if there are, they must take steps to correct them. For example, they must first try to fix problems by making changes in the working conditions, not just handing out personal protective equipment.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program
This program essentially protects a worker against retaliation in the workplace if he or she reports an injury or safety concern. OSHA was established in 1970, but whistleblower protection has been expanded over the years since then, and it now enforces the whistleblower protection in more than 20 statutes.  For example, the Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010, has provisions for protecting employees against retaliation. Retaliation could include denying your overtime pay, reducing your pay or hours, making threats, intimidation and firing.

The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act
This act became a federal law in late 2000 in response to the growing concern of the potential for harm to healthcare workers from needlesticks and sharps injuries.

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard
This standard initially took effect in 1992. The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act called for revisions to this standard, which took effect in April 2001. The standard was revised to direct employers to keep a log of sharps injuries and get non-managerial employees to help select safer needle devices. Among other provisions, it mandates universal precautions and emphasizes work practice controls.

What labor laws are the horizon?

Safe patient handling protection
More than 10 states have enacted safe patient handling laws in an effort to protect healthcare workers from sustaining potentially debilitating injuries on the job. But, despite numerous attempts, there is not yet a federal safe patient handling law. Associations that promote the health and safety of physical therapists, radiologists, sonographers, nurses and others are expected to continue the fight.

Full-time employment classification changes
The Forty Hours is Full Time Act of 2015, or SR 30, is sitting in the U.S. Senate’s Finance committee, having passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. This bill would change the IRS’s definition of a full-time employee from 30 to 40 hours per week. The Save American Workers Act of 2015, or HR 30, was a similar piece of legislation proposed this year that would also change the definition of a full-time employee from someone who works 30 hours per week to 40 hours per week.

These bills have their share of detractors. The American Nurses Association president Pamela Cipriano recently told the American Journal of Nursing that it could threaten hospital nurses and others who work three 12-hour shifts per week. And some note that it would enable small businesses to provide health insurance to fewer employees while complying with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate.


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