Federal agencies would be required to publish comprehensive employee safety plans prior to instituting return-to-work efforts under legislation reported favorably by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 13.
The bill, named the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act after a food service worker at a childcare facility at Quantico that died of COVID-19, would give agencies 60 days to publish a plan for how they intend to address personal protective equipment, testing, contract tracing and other safety procedures for any of their covered worksites.
“To me this is a very somber commitment to a constituent who died needlessly at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
“Confusion and uncertainty emerged as two of the largest contributing factors to Chai’s death. Uncertainty on best practices at the time and agency policies and the general lack of communication with federal workforce staff led to his death.”
According to Connolly, the bill is necessary because not all agencies have heeded workplace safety guidance, as evidenced by a recent Inspector General finding that OPM facilities did not require face coverings, despite medical consensus that they were an effective tool for mitigating the spread of the virus.
“This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., would provide assurances that agencies are taking all the necessary steps to build a safe working environment as the pandemic begins to subside and more teleworking employees are allowed back into their place of work,” said National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon in a statement.
“Together with the guidance of President Biden’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, we believe this legislation would give employees the information they need to feel secure upon their return.”
But Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., characterized the bill as one that would create “unnecessary and duplicative paperwork,” though he wouldn’t call for a more comprehensive roll call vote rather than a simple voice vote on the bill.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., proposed an amendment that would have directly stated that certain employees were safe to return to work, though Connolly argued that such language would override the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and potentially eliminate the possibility of continuing telework programs past the pandemic.
The bill passed out of the committee by voice vote, though not unanimously.
Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.