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Hot lines let workers snitch on bosses who break virus rules

Both Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey have launched efforts to let workers anonymously report complaints about businesses that are not taking proper precautions for COVID-19 in the workplace.
Both Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey have launched efforts to let workers anonymously report complaints about businesses that are not taking proper precautions for COVID-19 in the workplace.

Feel like snitching on a boss or business not following public health rules in the COVID-19 era? Massachusetts officials are more than happy to listen.

Hot lines and websites allow workers, customers, and others who spot businesses they believe aren’t taking steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus to relay those concerns to the state.

A reporting form offered by Attorney General Maura Healey earlier in the pandemic has already registered more than 1,000 complaints. And last week, Governor Charlie Baker announced an additional effort to help track businesses and institutions that might not be taking proper precautions.

Healey’s form lets workers and customers choose from a list of concerns about employers they believe are not complying with recommendations and requirements on such issues as cleaning, hygiene, and masks.

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Reports can be made anonymously.

Other concerns on the form include requiring work of employees who are showing symptoms; retaliating against workers who raise concerns; failing to practice social distancing; and failing to display a poster attesting to compliance.

The poster publicly affirms that a business is complying with basic health measures including face coverings, social distancing, hand-washing, and regularly sanitizing high-touch areas. It also states that employees have received training about social distancing and hygiene.

“We have received hundreds of complaints from workers and consumers about businesses that aren’t following state health and safety guidance,” Healey said in a written statement. “With continued anxiety and uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, we want the public and workers to know we are dedicated to protecting them during this time.”

In most cases, Healey’s office doesn’t have direct authority to enforce the kinds of health and safety items in the reports.

Instead, other local, state, and federal authorities — such as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards — could act.

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Healey said her office’s division on fair labor has been responding to the workplace health and safety complaints as best they can by helping workers and consumers understand their rights. Her office also tells employers when it receives a complaint and makes sure they know about COVID-19 safety orders issued by Baker.

Healey’s office has also been referring concerns lodged with her office to local, state, and federal authorities that have more direct authority, including local boards of health, the Department of Labor Standards, and the state Department of Public Health.

The types of businesses cited by patrons and workers in the reports compiled by Healey’s office range from restaurants, barber shops, car dealers, and fitness centers to medical centers, homeless shelters, pizza shops, furniture stores, contractors, and departments in local and state government.

They also include big-name retailers like Target, Costco, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, and Walmart.

While some of the most common complaints included the failure to properly clean and sanitize or require social distancing, there were more than 150 complaints about requiring symptomatic individuals to return to work.

Baker also hopes to reach out to businesses that may be falling short on the COVID-19 front with the help of workers and customers. “We’re grateful that thousands of businesses and organizations are doing their part to implement the reopening guidance that’s been made available,” Baker said during a press conference last week.

His administration launched a website that he said will make it easy for anyone to submit a report highlighting what they believe is noncompliance with a host of coronavirus rules outlined by his administration for specific kinds of businesses.

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“People are working hard to cooperate and be creative, but if folks believe that a business or employer is not observing the safety guidelines, we’ve set up a process for people in the public or employees to reach out and communicate that,” he added.

Investigations prompted by a report can result in enforcement measures if violations are discovered, Baker said.

Baker said individuals can also call the state’s 211 hot line to report concerns about a business.

Those concerns will be move directly to the new website, Baker said.