The end of the year holiday season is a magical and joyous time. However, this season can also be immensely stressful and even dangerous for workers, especially those in fields like retail, manufacturing, food processing and service, and medicine. The high demand for gifts combined with the end of the year crunch many companies experience can lead to increased stress, exhaustion, and even make injuries more likely to occur.
Common workplace safety issues that are created or exacerbated by the holiday season include:
- Fatigue: People are more likely to be fatigued in general during the holiday season thanks to increased demands and responsibilities (and not to mention less daylight). For example, retail workers may be asked to work extra hours, office employees may have to find time to schedule gift shopping and cooking around their already busy schedules, and anyone with a large network knows there are numerous gatherings to plan and/or attend. Injuries are more likely to occur when employees are tired, so avoiding worker exhaustion should be a top priority for employers. Unfortunately, it often is not.
- Stress: In addition to all the holiday-related stresses in people’s personal lives, many industries are busiest at the end of the year. The combination of personal and work-related stress can add up quickly, and lead people to burn out. People under stress may also rush their tasks, causing them to miss something important or even unintentionally create a hazard for themselves or others.
- Work injury: Decorating the workplace is a great way to get into the holiday spirit, but it can also lead to falls from ladders and even to electric shock if people aren’t careful. Slip and fall accidents are also common this time of year, especially—but far from exclusively—in places that get ice and snow. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), accidents and injuries related to fires, electric shock, falls, and poisonings always increase this time of year both at home and in the workplace.
- Drunk and drowsy driving: Gatherings with coworkers can lead to people getting behind the wheel after having too many drinks. If you don’t have a designated driver or if your workplace doesn’t offer to pay for a taxi or rideshare, it’s best to avoid drinking altogether. Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, as lack of sleep can lower your ability to focus and respond to what’s happening on the road—as well as cause you to fall asleep at the wheel.
This year is even more rife with danger than usual as we continue to endure the COVID-19 pandemic. A UC Berkeley Labor Center study released last month titled “Physical Proximity to Others in California’s Workplaces: Occupational Estimates and Demographic and Job Characteristics” reveals some of the issues and challenges presented by working during both the holiday season and a pandemic.
- Low-wage workers are less likely to be able to work remotely.
- Most health care, personal care, and teaching occupations entail job duties that put them in “very close” proximity to others.
- Workers employed by the state, local governments, and nonprofits are more likely to be employed in occupations that require “very close” physical proximity to others compared to private-sector workers.
- Front-line essential workers are overrepresented in jobs requiring “moderately close” to “very close” physical proximity, and most are likely unable to work remotely.
- Women, especially those who are Black and/or Latina, are more likely to work in careers that put them in close proximity to others, which puts them at higher risk.
Under California state law, everyone has a right to a safe workplace and worker’s comp benefits—regardless of immigration status. Green card holders and even undocumented workers are eligible to take time off with pay if injured or made ill due to their job duties. Regardless of the time of year or field of work you are in, your job should feel safe and your employer should be looking out for your best interests. If you ever feel otherwise, consult with a workers’ compensation lawyer near you for advice.
For detailed information concerning worker resources and benefits, visit the State of California Department of Industrial Relations COVID-19 Guidance and Resources and I was injured at work pages.
Ufkes & Bright is dedicated to protecting the legal rights of all California workers. If you or a loved one has been injured at work, contracted COVID-19 and/or another illness on the job, or feel unsafe in the workplace for any reason, please do not hesitate to reach out to our Santa Ana workers’ compensation attorneys. We offer free, no-obligation consultations to all prospective clients.