Masking, social distancing requirements under consideration

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(The Center Square) – Bringing back masking and social distancing in workplaces will be the subject of public hearings next week conducted by the North Carolina Department of Labor.

The department will hold public hearings on both proposals Tuesday, one for general industry construction and agricultural employers, and another for migrant housing operators.

The petitions, published in the North Carolina Register on Jan. 2, were submitted by the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry; North Carolina State AFL-CIO; Western North Carolina Workers Center; the Hispanic Liaison of Chatham County/El Vinculo Hispano; and the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, according to the department’s website.

Proposed is a rule to require businesses to impose mask and social distancing for workers to prevent the spread of “airborne infectious diseases,” along with record keeping obligations, an “exposure control plan,” and training for employees.

Other requirements would include paid leave for workers to get vaccinations.

The proposals would define “airborne infectious disease” as “any infectious viral, bacterial, or fungal disease that is transmissible through the air in the form of aerosol particles or droplets and which is designated by the Governor of North Carolina, North Carolina General Assembly, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, World Health Organization, or the CDC as presenting a public health emergency.”

The proposals have garnered attention on X, the social media site formally known as Twitter, where Raleigh attorney James Lawrence III suggested Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson already approved the proposals.

The Department of Labor has clarified officials have initiated the rulemaking process, but have not finalized any decisions. The department is now collecting public comment on the proposals for 60 days.

“Publication of the two petitions by NCDOL in no way intends to imply an endorsement of either by the commissioner of Labor,” according to a statement from the department.

The department will follow the public comment period with a review of the comments and any fiscal impact before changing, adopting, or rejecting the proposals.

Dobson is not seeking reelection in 2024, and two leading Republicans vying to replace him have spoken out against the proposals.

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, wrote in a press release that he opposes the proposed rules because they’re “excessive and would create undue burdens on businesses across the state.”

Republican Luke Farley, endorsed by former Commissioner Cherie Berry, also vowed to “fight against any attempt to bring back those failed policies.”

Others opposed include the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, which has argued the proposed rules would harm businesses without providing much benefit.

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