Attorney General Maura Healey's office has received over 1,000 formal complaints from workers all over the state who fear their workplace has not properly protected them from the coronavirus. Healey spoke with Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu to talk more about the complaints she has been receiving and what actions employees can take if they feel unsafe at work. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: We'd like to know what you're hearing. Is there a common thread in these complaints or are the issues widespread?

Attorney General Maura Healey: Well, I'll tell you, a lot of the complaints are from workers complaining about unsafe working conditions — employers not having the right cleaning and disinfection in place, or PPE or social distancing. We unfortunately, too, are receiving complaints about employers retaliating or threatening to retaliate against employees who complain that they don't want to work because they're sick or they fear they've been COVID exposed. So that's why it's important we set up this hotline and complaint form, because when people contact my office, we're able to reach out to employers and take action. It is so important that as we reopen, we make sure that these workers are protected.

Mathieu: How do you handle those two different complaints? A worker feels unsafe, or as you said, a worker might be under pressure or somehow attacked by their employer over this?

Healey: Well, a couple things. First of all, I think the governor's order made very clear that there are certain requirements that employers need to follow if they're going to reopen. So everybody, including employees and customers and vendors, should remain six feet apart inside and outside of workplaces. They have to have signage up to ensure social distancing, face coverings or masks are required. And also, you know, it's the case that employers should continue to encourage frequent handwashing and sanitizing of high touch areas throughout the workplace.

If they don't have those things in place — they have to have those things in place, and we'll make sure that they do. When it comes to coworkers, for example, testing positive, we get questions from employees all the time — what do I do? What is my employer need to do? And the first thing is, the employer needs to clean and disinfect the workplace. They also need to inform other employees of any possible exposure. And under guidance from the governor, certain businesses also need to notify their local boards of health.

Now, if somebody calls and they say that they are being told by their employer that they don't want them to go to work because they're too sick, the answer to that is yes, your employer can actually tell you not to come to work, or can require you to leave, if you are sick. You're entitled to be paid for the time that you were at work for being sent home. But the employer has that right. So these are some of the things that, you know, we deal with. I encourage people to call. Again, anybody who is sick and tells their employer that they're sick or maybe they feel they may have been exposed and they're in a high-risk category, that may or may entitle them to protection under the law because they may have a disability that requires the employer to provide an accommodation.

Mathieu: These are really important things for people to know. As we spent some time this morning with Attorney General Maura Healey. We're talking about a range of businesses, of course. You think office space, maybe, but also gyms and even some close contact businesses like nail salons and so forth, Attorney General, each present different challenges.

Healey: Well, they do, and we've seen with this phased reopening, just how complicated it is for our workspaces, for employers. And so, you know, all I can do is continue to encourage employers to really take seriously the directives that are out there, encourage employees, as well as the public, if you go into a store and you think that things aren't right, call my office. You know, in the early days, we received complaints about grocery stores, right? And that grocery stores weren't doing what they were supposed to do to protect their workers or customers. We were able to pick up the phone, contact those stores, and they made changes immediately. But in this time, where the coronavirus is very much still among us, we need to protect workers so that we're protecting the public as well.

Mathieu: You've been a pretty consistent voice throughout this pandemic, Madam Attorney General, in terms of scams that you are warning people of, the issue we're talking about now. You also issued an emergency regulation to stop debt collectors from targeting people during the pandemic. That was challenged and blocked in court over a First Amendment issue. One of the collectors, I believe, sued over this. Can you tell us where that stands?

Healey: Yes. You know, I thought it was important to do a couple of things: One, to get after price gouging, to get after scams, so we continue to take reports from people who think they've been the victim of coronavirus scams. And the other thing is recognizing that we have so many people who've been laid off or have been forced to work fewer hours. And so money is tight. And that's why we issued a regulation stopping debt collection by these third-party debt collectors. These are debt collectors who may be calling your house or writing you repeatedly, who've been hired out. Oftentimes they've bought the debt from someone else and they're looking to collect oftentimes just pennies on the dollar.

But, you know, there are certain rules that are out there. They did sue to stop it. They were not entirely successful. So the debt collection rules still apply here in Massachusetts. And you should not be in a position where you have your wages garnished or taken to court at this point during the pendency of the emergency.

Mathieu: So that's also really important for people to know. A collector then cannot confront you in person or harass you by phone at home, as this order stands in Massachusetts.

Healey: Well, they'reallowed to call, but there are very strict limits on how many calls they make. And so I would just encourage anyone who feels that they're being harassed unfairly by a debt collector, please contact my office. Also, there is still a moratorium on foreclosures and on evictions. We don't want to see people lose their homes or become homeless as a result of this crisis. So also, contact my office if you feel you've been the victim of unfair treatment there. We'll intervene to stop that.