Redefining Place of Employment | DCR Workforce Blog

Redefining Place of Employment

The Business Dictionary online defines workplace as the location at which an employee provides work for an employer. The workplace can be located in a variety of settings including offices, manufacturing facilities or factories, stores, farms, out-of-doors, or in any other location where work is performed. Every physical workplace in the US is subject to workplace health and safety regulations and other guidelines provided by the US Department of Labor (DOL). Workplace safety audits examine issues like workers compensation, environmental safety, breaks and lunch requirements, leave requirements, equal employment opportunity, and unemployment compensation.

With the proliferation of electronic communication, all workplaces are not physical locations at which employees work. Home offices, telecommuting arrangements, and worldwide employment relationships mean that almost any location, including the employee’s home, may serve as and accurately be called a workplace.

Under these confusing circumstances, Assembly Member Jeff Gorell sought an opinion from California’s Attorney General on the question of circumstances under which an owner-operated business with no additional employees could be construed to offer a ‘place of employment’. Apparently, the aim was to ascertain whether a law prohibiting smoking at the workplace can be applied to a business which has no employees other than the owner.

The Attorney General clarified that even an owner-operated business which has no employees constitutes a ‘place of employment’ when employment of any kind is carried on by persons who are employed by someone other than the business owner. Simply put, occupational health and safety regulations apply to any location in which individuals are conducting work for hire (i.e., are being paid to do the work).  In these situations, both the actual employer of record, and the company or individual who owns the work location, and jointly responsible for creating a safety workplace to those employees.  So, carrying on a business or work activities at a place automatically extends the status of a ‘place of employment’ to the location, rather than who employs the workers. This redefinition takes into account the contemporary developments in the job market and wisely redefines the term, ‘place of employment’; to include every place of business which is set for ‘direct or indirect profit’.

  • While the interpretation was conducted by the California Attorney General, it was based on rulings of the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals (OSHA) Board, meaning that it is applicable nation-wide. In the interpretation, the use of contract workers provided by staffing agencies was specifically addressed.  If you are an owner-operated business but have individuals employed by another company working at your facilities, consider the following: You could be considered by OSHA as a secondary employer to persons whose primary employer happens to have assigned them to work at your facility in a temporary capacity.
  • Always verify that staffing suppliers carry appropriate insurance to protect their workers in the event of an accident.
  • Workers need to be briefed on safety procedures, trained on the use of equipment, and equipped with appropriate safety equipment.  Be clear as to who is responsible for completing each of these actions.  And remember, all training and documentation must be in a language that the worker understands.
  • In the event of a disaster, temporary workers must be evacuated and accounted for.  Work with the staffing suppliers to establish protocols to handle these potential emergencies.
  • Also, if you are engaging the services of an independent contractor, verify that the contractor carries necessary insurance.
  • Even if the place of employment is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization, any worker being paid for services who is assigned to the place is at a ‘place of employment’ and is protected.

While this clarifies some of the issues surrounding the notion of a workplace, legislation has not always kept pace with changing work environments.  On this blog site, we have always held that the phenomenal growth of the contingent workforce industry is bound to impact the legislative environment surrounding us; and we have committed ourselves to bring you updates on developments affecting the use of extended workforces. Businesses must note that this definition of a workplace only reinforces the need to ensure that protection is afforded to all workers – even those not on your payroll.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.