≡ Menu

That’s Prohibited by the 13th Amendment

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:


A headline today of yours reads “Forcing people to work in deadly heat is mostly legal in the U.S.” Not so. Slavery was outlawed in the U.S. by the 13th amendment. While employers can fire workers who refuse to work in the heat, employers emphatically cannot force people to work in the heat or, for that matter, in any other conditions.

And because workers are free, for whatever reasons they choose, to refuse to work, employers who insist that their workers toil in extreme heat must pay a premium for this privilege. Workers in such jobs are paid what economists call “compensating differentials.” Employers who don’t pay this premium for unusually hazardous or unpleasant work eventually lose workers to employers who do. Therefore, if government were to outlaw working in extreme heat it would harm workers who prefer the higher wages to more-comfortable working conditions.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030