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News from EPI State attorneys general play a growing role in protecting workers’ rights

A new EPI report documents the dramatic increase in the involvement of state attorneys general (AGs) in protecting workers’ rights in the past two years.

Most recently, several state AGs have been highly active during the coronavirus pandemic, including by enforcing stay-at-home executive orders and advocating for safer workplaces in key industries and among key employers.

State AGs have also taken action to fight wage theft and address broader workplace trends that have developed over recent decades, such as the proliferation of noncompete agreements in employment contracts, misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and violations by platform-based or “gig economy” companies. Eight states and D.C. have dedicated workers’ rights units within state AG offices, and six were started in the last five years.

The report recommends that state legislatures grant attorney general offices jurisdiction to enforce workplace rights laws. It also urges state AGs to expand their involvement in this area using a range of their existing powers and authority.

“Before the pandemic, many workers held precarious jobs and experienced high rates of wage theft and retaliation; now, some are risking their health and lives just by going to work,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, and a senior fellow at EPI. “In response to the dire challenges facing workers today, a number of state AGs have emerged as leaders in enforcing and protecting workers’ rights. State AGs can play a critical role in standing up for fair, safe, and dignified workplaces.”