August, 2001

A Review and Synthesis of the Cost of Workplace Regulations

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Little is known about the effects many workplace regulations have on U.S. consumers, employers, workers and taxpayers. This paper offers a synthesis and evaluation of available estimates of the cost of regulations directed at the workplace, and from these different studies, generates an estimate of the total cost of workplace regulation.

Though the focus of this paper is on the costs of regulations, regulations also provide benefits to American citizens. Indeed, the desired benefits of regulation are the force behind legislative initiatives that create them, and the benefits of regulation are often better understood, qualitatively, at least, than the costs. However, like the federal budget, which tracks government expenditures without their corresponding benefits, an understanding of regulatory costs is important for reasoned decision-making.

Workplace regulations impose significant costs on the U.S. economy, businesses, workers and consumers. Based on a careful review of available literature on the costs associated with 25 major statutory and executive provisions, I estimate that workplace regulations cost at least $91 billion per year in 2000 dollars. While contributing just over 10% of the generally accepted estimates of the total costs of regulation, this estimate is larger than has previously been assumed for workplace regulations.