When Labor Enforcement and Immigration Enforcement Collide: Deterring Worker Complaints Worsens Workplace Safety

57 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2021 Last revised: 9 Oct 2021

See all articles by Matthew S. Johnson

Matthew S. Johnson

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy

Amanda Grittner

Abt Associates, Inc.

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 29, 2020

Abstract

Regulatory agencies overseeing the labor market often rely on worker complaints to target their enforcement resources. This system might be counterproductive if the workers at risk of poor working conditions also face high barriers to complain. We examine the implications of complaint-based enforcement in the context of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We provide descriptive evidence that Hispanic workers face higher barriers to complain: workplaces with large shares of Hispanic workers have higher injury rates but issue fewer complaints to OSHA. We show that workers' willingness to complain causally affects the job hazards they face. At workplaces with large shares of Hispanic workers, counties’ participation in an immigration enforcement program reduced complaints to OSHA, but increased injuries. Our results highlight that using complaints to direct regulatory enforcement can exacerbate existing inequalities when workers face differential barriers to complain.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Matthew and Grittner, Amanda, When Labor Enforcement and Immigration Enforcement Collide: Deterring Worker Complaints Worsens Workplace Safety (December 29, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3756974 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3756974

Matthew Johnson (Contact Author)

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )

201 Science Drive
Box 90312
Durham, NC 27708-0239
United States

Amanda Grittner

Abt Associates, Inc. ( email )

55 Wheeler Street
Cambridge, MA 02138-1168
United States

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