Telecommuters Exempt From OSHA Regulations

FRAMINGHAM (01/27/2000) - Employers are not responsible for the health and safety of white-collar telecommuters after all, according to U.S. Department of Labor officials.

However, employers are still liable for any health and safety violations by workers who engage in hazardous manufacturing jobs at home, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The spokesman, Carl Fillichio, confirmed published reports regarding testimony given yesterday to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions by Assistant Secretary of Labor Charles Jeffress.

OSHA's position contradicts a "letter of interpretation" issued in November to CSC Credit Services in Houston. The letter said all firms that allow employees to work at home are responsible for injuries suffered by those workers.

However, OSHA withdrew its interpretation -- a reaffirmation of the 1970 OSH Act -- after an uproar from employers and some members of Congress, who felt OSHA's interpretation could signal the beginning of the end of the work-at-home era for hundreds of companies, including technology firms.

According to Jeffress, this current position will be taken into account in any future work-at-home regulations.

In addition, OSHA's proposed ergonomics standards will most likely incorporate a distinction between white-collar telecommuters and blue-collar employees engaged in hazardous manufacturing at home. The ergonomics standards, which are opposed by many businesses, would hold employers responsible for repetitive-strain injuries suffered by at-home workers.

Jeffress' statements about the white-collar exemption caught at least one member of the Center for Office Technology off guard.

"This is very interesting," said Sherry Saunders, a spokeswoman for the center.

"I'm certain businesses will look at this very carefully."

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