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Holding Companies Accountable in Light of Recent Deregulations

— April 1, 2020

It seems a bit counterintuitive that companies are better protected than individual consumers and workers, but that’s today’s unfortunate reality.

It’s a lucrative time to be a business owner. In Trump’s America, corporations are not only considered people but have also become increasingly deregulated over the years. According to the White House, recent environmental and trade-based deregulations have even spawned “an unprecedented economic boom,” creating millions of jobs and fueling economic growth. 

Yet that statement isn’t entirely accurate, and in many cases, deregulation does more harm than good. While industry deregulations may improve corporate efficiency, spurring decreased consumer costs, there are also numerous downsides. For instance, customers are more susceptible to fraud and unscrupulous business practices when companies are deregulated. What’s more, concerns about the environment, social justice, and similar topics go out the window in the face of deregulation.

So, in light of the implications of widespread deregulation, how can U.S. citizens ensure that businesses are accountable for employee safety, as well as their environmental impact? And what of the gig economy, where workers aren’t afforded legal protections required for employees, such as minimum wage or overtime pay? The question of liability is more complicated than ever in the wake of massive deregulation of myriad industries, companies, and governmental entities.

Workplace Safety, OSHA, and Deregulations

American workplace safety became standardized and streamlined in 1970, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was founded. However, the sad reality in 2020 is that OSHA is understaffed, resulting in numerous health and safety violations that fly under the radar. Thus, where OSHA is concerned, it’s not only about deregulation but also the inability of OSHA inspectors to thoroughly inspect millions of employers nationwide. 

Make no mistake, however; OSHA has indeed seen numerous deregulations since the beginning of the Trump administration. When a company or workplace is found to be in violation of OSHA’s health and safety standards, they are often required to pay a fine. Thanks to deregulations, companies that refuse to pay fines, or neglect to do so, may simply be penalized with additional fines.

The upside is that, in 2019, “lawmakers increased OSHA fines across the board,” according to Eastern Kentucky University. Yet the increase was negligible: Penalties rose from $12,934 to $13,260 for every serious, other-than-serious, and failure-to-abate violation. Of course, OSHA has no jurisdiction over the gig economy, where one’s workplace can include a coffee shop, personal vehicles, and beyond.

The Nuances of the Gig Economy

Man checking data on laptop; image by Content Creators, via
Man checking data on laptop; image by Content Creators, via

The gig economy is an apt example of the ways in which deregulation can actually harm workers, rather than benefiting them. Within the gig economy, workers are typically classified as “contractors” rather than employees, and thus aren’t entitled to benefits and may earn less than minimum wage. However, a large chunk of gig workers understand exactly what they’re getting into, and don’t want to be limited by a steady, repetitive job with set hours. 

The rise of the gig economy, which includes about 55 million American workers as of 2017, has spawned a multitude of worker protection initiatives. One of the most recent, California’s Assembly Bill 5, is also controversial. While lawmakers claim that the bill will help protect gig workers, by requiring their employment status to shift from “contractor” to “employee,” not all contractors agree. 

Many people are drawn to gig work for its inherent flexibility, with the ability to set one’s own schedule. Further, independent contractors are essentially their own company, and implementing bills such as Assembly Bill 5 on a national scale will take that autonomy from gig workers. In this way, regulations on rideshare companies and similar employers might actually be more limiting and undermine worker protections, rather than elevating them.

When It’s Time to Take Legal Action

Yet the gig economy is an outlier where employer regulations are concerned — generally speaking, companies should be regulated by the government to ensure the wellbeing of workers and customers alike. Repeat violations of OSHA and other types of regulations may result in legal action, including liability lawsuits, and even giant corporations like Amazon aren’t immune to legal repercussions. 

Interestingly, the arraignment process for companies taken to court is not much different from that of individuals. People looking to hold companies accountable should familiarize themselves with the legal process for the type of case they want to bring. It may also be in an employee’s best interest to seek the representation and guidance of an attorney. 

It seems a bit counterintuitive that companies are better protected than individual consumers and workers, but that’s today’s unfortunate reality. The state of corporate relations in recent years means that it’s more important than ever for employees to speak up. 

If you believe that your rights have been violated or your work environment is unsafe, don’t be afraid to report those violations. You may also be inclined to use the experiences of your co-workers to help support your claims, and hire legal counsel if necessary to better protect yourself and the American workforce as a whole.

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