Moral distress occurs when a person “knows the right thing to do, but institutional and/or environmental constraints make it nearly impossible to pursue the right course of action”

One of the main stressors affecting healthcare workers in these uncertain times has to do with employment (or in some cases, unemployment) policy. The information below may assist you in making sense of your situation and connect you with supports you may need as you move forward.

Worker Safety

You deserve to feel—and remain—safe at work. While caring for others, it may seem as though your health and well-being are relegated to second place. The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration is responsible for ensuring, through establishing and enforcing workplace safety and health standards, that employers keep employees safe on-the-job. The Occupational Safety & Health Act establishes enforceable workers’ rights. As such, you have the right to file a complaint if you believe your employer is violating established guidelines. Please note, however, that OSHA has not issued, on an emergency basis, a standard that would set out specific protections for workers during this pandemic. Even so, any employer covered by OSHA must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards that might cause serious physical harm or death.

The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) Program is part of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI). As such, the state-run agency, not OSHA, conducts enforcement. Virginia operates an OSHA-approved State Plan covering most private sector workers and all state and local government workers. More information about VOSH and Virginia’s Plan can be found here.

If you want to file a complaint, it should describe how the workplace is violating the OSHA and CDC guidelines. The complaint should also list any existing OSHA standards the employer is violating. The worker, or a representative of the worker, can file a complaint by phone (find your local office number) or through the website. Importantly, if a worker or organization does not want the employer to know who filed the complaint, OSHA will keep the information confidential. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) recommends that an organization or another individual (e.g., worker center or lawyer) file the complaint on behalf of the worker and keep the worker’s name confidential.

Contact Information:
Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) Headquarters Main Street Centre
600 East Main Street, Suite 207
Richmond, VA 23219
Tel: (804) 371-2327
Fax: (804) 371-6524

Regarding Unemployment

Losing employment at any time is stressful, but is particularly devastating during a national emergency. Unemployment Insurance (also referred to as UI) is a benefit intended to be paid out if a worker loses their job. General information about Virginia’s UI Program can be found here.

How to file for UI in Virginia:

  • You will need the following information to file your claim:
    • Your Social Security Number
    • The accurate employer names, addresses, telephone numbers and dates of employment within the last 18 months.
    • The name and local number of your local union hall, if you obtain work through a union.
    • Your Alien Registration Number if you are not a US citizen.
    • If you have any Non-Virginia employers you must have an accurate mailing address, phone number, and dates of employment for them.
    • You will be asked to select a method of payment: VA Debit Card or Direct Deposit. If you select Direct Deposit, you will need to have your Routing Number (First 9 digits located at the bottom of your checks) and your Account Number (5-17 digits, its exact location and number of digits varies from bank to bank).
  • The filing process takes approximately 45 minutes to complete
  • To file a claim by telephone call 1-866-832-2363
  • Also note that, if denied unemployment insurance, you may file an appeal
  • Virginia is providing updates on UI changes related to COVID-19 here.

Other Assistance (as outlined by the National Employment Law Project):

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enhanced and expanded UI. Specifically, it created three new UI programs:

  1. Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)
    1. Through July 31, 2020, all regular UI and PUC claimants will receive their usual calculated benefit plus an additional $600 per week in compensation. PUC may be paid either with the regular UI payment or at a separate time, but it must be paid on a weekly basis. PUC is not income for purposes of eligibility for either Medicaid or CHIP.
  2. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
    1. The CARES Act also provides an additional 13 weeks of state UI benefits, which will become available after someone exhausts all their regular state UI benefits. Virginia offers 26 weeks of UI benefits.
    2. To receive PEUC, workers must be actively engaged in searching for work. However, the bill outlines that “a State shall provide flexibility in meeting such requirements in case of individuals unable to search for work because of COVID-19, including because of illness, quarantine, or movement restriction.”
  3. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
    1. This is emergency unemployment assistance to workers who are excluded from regular state UI or who have exhausted such state UI benefits
    2. Individuals eligible for state UI are not eligible for this program
    3. Self-employed workers, independent contractors, freelancers, and workers seeking part-time work are eligible for this program

More information can be found here.

work safety