As Indiana businesses begin to reopen, employees weigh workplace safety concerns

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As businesses across Indiana start reopening, they’ll need employees to feel safe going back to work.

FOX59 heard a lot of concerns from essential employees about conditions in workplaces when Indiana’s stay at home order first went into effect. This time around, employers will be able to rely on more guidance from the state about what safety protocols need to be in place to open.

Lisa Woodruff’s employer never closed, but she opted to take unpaid time off because of her concern over workplace conditions. Woodruff said she is now trying to figure out when she will go back.

“I really do want to go back to work, I’ve got to tell you, I’m getting a little stir-crazy,” Woodruff said. “It’s all about the work environment to me because we are close, (we work) so close together.”

According to Governor Eric Holcomb’s “Back on Track” plan to reopen the state, Woodruff is entitled to information about her employer’s plan to keep workers safe. The state’s guidance notes that employers “…shall provide employees, clients and customers with a customized COVID-19 action plan. … This plan should be posted publicly and made available upon request.”

“It gives them a reasonable expectation that this place of business is safe for operation and safe for people to be there,” Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar said.

Brinegar told FOX59 that his team asked the Governor to lay out specific guidelines for businesses to open, in order to streamline any concerns.

“We think that there needs to be statewide safety guidelines so that all businesses know what to expect and they’re all sort of playing by the same rules,” Brinegar said last week.

The state does lay out those guidelines, as well as detailed guidelines specific to different industries, on its Back on Track website.

What’s less clear are protections available to employees like Woodruff if they decide that they don’t feel safe going back to work. State leaders have said that if you are not sick and asked to report back, you will likely no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits if you stay home.

Employment attorney Kevin Betz expressed concern that it won’t be easy for employees to push back if they feel their employer is putting them at risk.

“That legal assertion of rights would take time to play out and many (employees) are thinking about next month’s mortgage and this week’s grocery bill,” Betz said.

That could leave employees on their own to work with employers or make a complaint to Indiana’s OSHA office, which does investigate conditions but so far has issued only verbal warnings to companies.

In Woodruff’s case, going back to work still comes with a lot of concern.

“Hopefully they can give me some information, feedback on what they have done and I’m going to go from there,” Woodruff said.

To look through the state’s industry specific guidelines for reopening, go to the link here. To make a complaint with IOSHA, go to the link here.

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