Employee Safety Laws to Keep in Mind

There’s nothing more valuable than human life. This is why the federal and state governments take great steps to protect employees from workplace harm through employee safety laws.

Keeping your employees safe doesn’t have to be complicated. This guide will teach you all the basics about keeping your employees safe from physical dangers and data theft to keep your business compliant and running safely.

Employee safety laws

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to keep employees physically safe and to preserve their data information. Follow the Occupational Safety and Health Act and data security laws to stay compliant. 

1. Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 ensures that employers provide workers with an environment free from hazards such as toxic chemicals, excessive noise, mechanical dangers, heat, cold, and unsanitary conditions. It governs most private-sector workplaces, some public-sector employers in all 50 states, and certain other territories.

To keep up with changing workplace conditions, the Act established the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to research worker safety and health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create and enforce regulations.

Under the OSH Act, employers have a legal responsibility to:

  • Provide a workplace free of hazards and compliant with OSHA
  • Provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) for free and training on how to use it
  • Display OSHA labor law posters
  • Provide guidelines, procedures, and training for the handling of hazards
  • Create a workplace incident report for work-related injuries and illnesses and make this information available to employees
  • Submit to OSHA inspections and correct any violations cited

OSHA has specific standards for the construction, maritime, and agriculture industries and a set of general industry standards for everyone else. Twenty-two states also have OSHA-approved State Plans, which detail unique protection plans for workers in their state. If the State Plan doesn’t cover certain workers, OSHA coverage applies automatically. 

Even if you don’t think your business is particularly hazardous, OSHA also regulates general building codes such as exit routes, emergency planning, fire safety systems, ventilation, sanitation, and wiring, as well as other topics such as first aid, noise control, and COVID-19 protocols.

Rather than a scary enforcement agency, remember that you and OSHA are working toward the same goal of protecting your employees against workplace injury and illness. Visit the OSHA website to find more information and resources to help you create a safe and healthy environment.

2. Data security

Though OSHA historically champions physical workplace safety, a more intangible modern challenge is data security. Data security involves protecting employees from identity theft and financial fraud by providing reasonable security measures to safeguard sensitive employee information. 

As part of your recordkeeping, you record invaluable information such as an employee’s Social Security number, date of birth, address, medical records, and more—all information that hackers and scammers could use to cause serious damage. Thus, as an employer, it’s your responsibility to keep employees safe by keeping their data safe.

Though the United States doesn’t have an overarching federal law governing employee data security yet, certain states and other countries are already taking action to protect worker information by regulating employee data use transparency and data ownership to prevent breaches.

For example, California’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) includes the following protections:

  • Job applicants, employees, and independent contractors have the same privacy rights as consumers without the protection interfering with their unionizing rights.
  • Employers must disclose to employees what data is being collected, how long it will be retained, how it’s being used, what privacy rights employees have, and how employees can exercise those rights.
  • Employees must disclose, delete, correct, or limit the collection and usage of worker data upon request.
  • Personal information collected during the natural course of employment and benefit distribution, as well as emergency contact data, is limited to use solely within those situations.

No matter where your office is located, you must follow the local data protection laws of the state your employee works in. Stay on top of data privacy laws so you can hire from a larger pool of employees and prepare for when more areas adopt similar policies. 

Another recordkeeping law to look out for is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that an employee’s medical records must be stored separately from the employee’s general personnel file. 

To protect employee data, you should ensure that all paper forms are stored in a locked and secure location with need-to-know limited access and that all electronic data is encrypted, password protected, and maintained on secure servers. Or, consider using payroll software and HR software that prioritize data safety and security. 

Why is it important to stay compliant? 

As an employer, you have a legal and moral responsibility to follow employee safety laws. 

If an employee gets injured on the job due to an unsafe environment, your business may be subject to hefty fines and lawsuits, or in the worst-case scenario, shut down completely. 

Similarly, a breach of employee data can ruin an employee’s livelihood and your company’s reputation. Potential employees, partners, and consumers may no longer want to do business with you for fear of their own information being stolen.

Though you might feel overwhelmed keeping up with this torrent of safety regulations, just being aware of these issues and proactively planning for employee safety puts you well on your way to learning how to handle the current and swim upstream to success.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

These views are made solely by the author.

Martin Eckler

Martin Eckler is the in-house legal advisor for Step By Step Business and a commercial attorney. He has over 20 years of experience in commercial law and business strategy. In his current role with Step By Step Business, he has been entrusted with reviewing all content and documents for legal compliance and handling company contract matters.

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