OSHA Withdraws Letter on Corporate Responsibility

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health

Administration (OSHA) said today it has "withdrawn" a letter written to a Texas company outlining that firm's responsibilities and liabilities regarding employees who work at home.

In a statement issued today, Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said that while the letter clarified questions about telecommuters raised in 1997 by CSC Credit Bureau in Houston, it caused "widespread confusion and unintended consequences" for other companies.

In its response to CSC Credit Bureau, OSHA had offered an interpretation of the 1971 OSH Act, saying that firms that allow employees to work at home are responsible for injuries suffered by those workers.

However, many businesses and professional organizations, as well as members of Congress, thought OSHA overstepped its bounds when it said that employers could be responsible for correcting a home's design, ventilation and heating and cooling systems, if those systems presented a danger to the employees while working.

Many employers said they felt OSHA's interpretation of its regulations could signal the beginning of the end of the work-at-home era.

Although it is unclear if OSHA is considering dispensing with the 30-year-old law regarding telecommuters, Herman said the agency would begin a "national dialogue to determine what the rules and policies should be for America's workers."

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