North Carolina's COVID-19 workplace complaints quadrupled in August

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina workers have filed close to 5,000 COVID-19 related complaints since the start of the pandemic, according to the North Carolina Department of Labor.

During some points of the pandemic, the state was seeing around 500 complaints filed a month. State data shows these complaints reduced dramatically over the summer but are now back on the rise.

The state received four times the number of complaints in August than in July.

"Employees are very concerned for their health," one complainant wrote in July.



The complaints published by the U.S. Department of Labor outline similar concerns voiced at the start of the pandemic.

"Adequate precautions are not being utilized to prevent the spread of COVID-19," one worker wrote.

Many workers continued to be concerned that their employers are not properly cleaning, not telling employers when positive cases are detected and not following quarantine guidelines.

"The employer is allowing employees that tested positive for the COVID-19 virus to return to work before they are free of symptoms," said one complaint filed this summer.

Another said, "Employees are being told to come into work when they have COVID-19, or be fired. This is causing other employees to contract the virus as well."

NC DOL said about half of the 4,722 complaints filed were valid and 89 remain open.

An ABC11 I-Team analysis of the U.S. Department of Labor data found the most complaints linked to full-service restaurants, the postal service, nursing facilities and poultry processing plants.



Carol Brooke, a senior attorney with the NC Justice Center, has pushed for stronger protections for North Carolina workers since the start of the pandemic. She said it is frustrating that similar safety concerns are still being echoed.

"I think almost anyone who you pulled on the street could tell you exactly what needs to be done to protect workers and yet it's not happening in many places, and it's not clearly laid out that it's a problem if employers don't do it," Brooke said.

Workers advocates have pushed to get NC DOL to enact COVID-19-related emergency rules to add some enforcement power and teeth to workers' concerns.

"It's very hard to say my employer isn't providing a safe workplace when it's not clear what the employer is supposed to be doing to provide a safe workplace, and so having those particular guidelines in place would be very helpful I think both for employers and employees, just to provide that clarity," Brooke said.

Last October. multiple groups filed a petition asking the NC DOL to adopt better standards to protect workers from COVID-19.

The petition was initially denied by former NC Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry wrote, "Implementing more regulations will not eradicate the virus, and it will not eliminate the fear of employees of contracting COVID-19."

The groups then took the matter to court. Last month an NC Superior Court judge ruled the state must consider implementing rules to protect workers from contracting COVID-19.

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In July, NC DOL did adopt a federal standard that applies to healthcare workers. The standard outlines steps that healthcare employers need to take to keep workers and the workplace safe.

A spokesperson for NC DOL said it has completed 101 on-site inspections related to COVID-19.

Around 10,000 COVID-19 cases are linked to North Carolina workplaces, according to a report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Eight more COVID-19 deaths are considered work-related fatalities since January. NC DOL now reports 34 COVID-19 work-related fatalities.

Brooke advises any employees who feel unsafe to speak with their boss as a group to give additional legal protection. She also said workers can file a formal complaint to OSHA and reach out to their local health department.

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