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NC Labor Department rejects petitions asking for new mask mandates


Carolina Journal

North Carolina Commissioner of Labor Josh Dobson has rejected two petitions filed by left-leaning groups to reinstitute mask mandates and other distancing requirements for North Carolina businesses.

The groups filed petitions asking the department to implement a string of measures that would “prevent the spread of airborne infectious diseases” in the workplace during any declared public health emergency. Under North Carolina general statute 150B-20, any member of the public can petition a state agency to adopt a permanent rule, and the Labor Department accepted the petition for consideration. 

Commissioner Dobson, who granted the requests for consideration, announced the official decision in a statement on Wednesday. He said it comes after carefully reviewing the rule-making petitions, the record, public comments, listening to both sides, and considering the North Carolina Department of Labor’s (NCDOL) statutory authority.

Citizens spoke at previous hearings on the matter, with the vast majority of public testimony condemning the ‘egregious overreach of government’ that would be ‘detrimental to businesses.’ Jill Cramer, the general counsel for NCDOL, said she received approximately 665 emailed comments during the public comment window, which ended on March 4.

“After thoughtful consideration of the petitions received on December 14, 2022, I, Josh Dobson, Commissioner of Labor, have made the decision not to adopt either of the proposed rules, to include the General Industry/Construction Infectious Diseases and the Airborne Infectious Diseases for Migrant Housing and Agricultural employers,” Dobson said.

The first petition sought to enact health regulations on agricultural employers and migrant housing operators. The second petition aimed to require businesses in North Carolina to adhere to specific health requirements if the governor, legislature, or federal health agencies declare a health emergency. The proposed rules include masking and social distancing, creating an exposure control plan, and maintaining a log of positive cases.

The agency held public hearings in January, in which more than 100 people attended in person and virtually. Testimony on business mandates exceeded the two-hour time allotted to the meeting. Of 53 public commenters, 47 were against the petitioned occupational safety and health rules, though the agency did not tabulate the comments as “for” or “against.”

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-59, who was running for the role of Labor Commissioner at the time, attended the January meeting and urged the labor commissioner to reject this petition. He said, “If there’s one thing we learned during COVID, it’s that government intrusion has negative consequences on the private industry,”

Luke Farley, the Republican nominee for Labor Commissioner, applauded the department’s decision and said “these burdensome rules were bad for workers and bad for businesses.”

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