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CNN Today

OSHA Holds Employers Responsible for Safety at Employee's Home Workplace

Aired January 4, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The government has a new warning for corporate America, and it may come as something of a shock: If you let your employees work at home, you're responsible for any safety or health violations there.

Kathleen Koch has the story from Washington -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, this is a sweeping decision from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, and it affects not only the nearly-20-million Americans who work at home on their computers or telephones for their companies but also those employees who only work from home occasionally. And what it basically says is that the same broad safety and health requirements that apply in the traditional workplace also apply in the home workplace. So, what that means is that companies must now make certain that home work sites are safe, and if they're not, they will be liable for any illnesses or injuries that occur there.

Not surprisingly, employers say that this decision is far too broad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't believe OSHA, that they not going to inspect. What they're doing is making employers liable for the design of a home office. And so what they're doing is saying employers are going to be liable for this, but we're not going to inspect. We think the ultimate goal here, obviously, is for OSHA to inspect people's homes, and we think that's moving in the wrong decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: Now, OSHA says it has no plans whatsoever to inspect people's homes. It actually suggests that employers themselves should conduct period safety checks of their employee's home work sites.

Now, OSHA does make clear that the employer is only responsible for making certain the work site itself is safe, not the employee's entire house. However, for example, if the work site is in the basement and those stairs are not safe, OSHA says that the employer could be liable if, say, their employee falls down those stairs.

Now, unions say that this is a much-needed protection for workers, workers in the home. However, there are many who believe that employees will now cut back on those telecommuting arrangements that are now in place or may not enter into future telecommuting arrangements, and that would send many more Americans back out on the nation's already-overcrowded highways.

Reporting live in Washington, I'm Kathleen Koch. Back to you.

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