- Following the lead of the boss — President Trump — basic safety COVID-19 protocols were not only ignored by the staff of the White House, they were ridiculed.
- Now the White House is a COVID hotspot and an unsafe workplace.
- There was speculation that the White House could be held criminally or civilly liable, but both are unlikely.
- The government holds itself to a lower standard for workplace safety standards than it does for private companies. And the Trump administration has gutted the agency that holds employers accountable.
- Trump is back in the Oval Office despite still being infected with COVID, putting everyone in that building at risk.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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The White House is an unsafe work environment.
Over the past few months, following the lead of the boss — President Trump — basic safety COVID-19 protocols were not only ignored by the staff of the White House, they were ridiculed.
Masks were rarely worn, and often mocked or discouraged. Consistent social distancing among senior staffers didn’t happen, either. Crowded meetings in close quarters continued.
Once COVID ran rampant through the building, accurate and up-to-date information from the administration was nowhere to be found, but press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did manage to give some briefings to the assembled press corps, including a short one last Thursday where she didn’t wear a mask.
McEnany tested positive for the virus three days later.
McEnany tweeted that she “definitively had no knowledge” that Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID earlier that day, but the conflicting and confusing timelines given from the White House through the debacle made some reporters question the statement.
And those reporters who McEnany spoke to are justifiably livid. But they’ve recognized that the Trump White House is a place that even seven months into the pandemic doesn’t take it seriously.
“No masks on planes. Inconsistent testing. Every life reliant on a rapid testing system that doesn’t really work. And they have mocked and attacked us for pointing that out repeatedly,” one White House reporter told CNN.
“Because of this recklessness we are more worried than ever about our health,” another reporter said.
White House staffers are also talking about how terrified they are of working in an embarrassingly reckless environment.
These reporters and staffers would have a number of options if they were compelled to work in a corporate environment with such haphazard safety protocols. But because it’s the White House, there’s little they can do to stand up for themselves and hold the Trump administration accountable. And because Trump is president, the watchdogs in charge of protecting workers’ safety are nowhere to be found.
A dangerous workplace, limited recourse
Some hot legal takes popped up online speculating on whether the White House, or particular senior staffers, could be declared criminally negligent for putting other White House staffers and reporters in a dangerous workplace.
Deborah Berkowitz, a former senior policy