Va. official urges elimination of OSHA telecommuting regulation

A recent Labor Department advisory that would have held employers responsible for health and safety violations in employees' homes caused a maelstrom of controversy nationwide, and Virginia's top technology officer recently urged a House subcommittee to remove the regulation.

The commonwealth's secretary of technology, Donald Upson, last week testified before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Education and Workforce, encouraging the elimination of the Occupational Safety and Health Act regulation that he said neglected the telecommuting needs of the work force in the Information Age.

Upson said the OSHA rule, which was released Nov. 11 and later rescinded by Sec. of Labor Alexis Herman, would hinder a transportation plan included in Gov. James Gilmore's budget that set aside $10 million in tax credits for firms that support telecommuting opportunities in Northern Virginia. The telecommuting plan, which will take effect in 2001, would offer firms up to $2,000 in tax credits for each new telecommuting employee, and as many as 10,000 new telecommuters could result from the program.

"We in Virginia recognize that [telecommuting] is becoming an increasingly important facilitator of the emerging information economy," Upson said, adding that if the Gilmore plan were scheduled to take effect in January 2000, the OSHA rule could have destroyed it. "The collaborative state and regional efforts that we are so carefully building on could have been effectively wiped out. I question whether we would have been able to regain momentum and credibility at what would have been a critical time in our program."

Upson applauded Virginia Rep. Tom Davis for introducing legislation to remove the OSHA regulation from the telecommuting arena and implored Congress not to allow federal bureaucracy to undermine state and local telecommuting efforts.

Upson's complete testimony is available at www.sotech.state.va.us/eduwork2.htm.

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