Most employers make a serious effort to maintain workplace safety by providing training and even making safety violations grounds for dismissal. Yet, around 4.6 million workplace injuries occur every year. This isn’t just unfortunate. It can put your business in the crosshairs for several kinds of legal action.
1. Federal action
At the federal level, workplace safety generally falls under the domain of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). OSHA is tasked with a fairly broad mandate, including investigation, compliance enforcement, and issuing fines. OSHA also handles complaints about retaliatory firings related to reporting violations.
In short, can OSHA show up to check and see if you comply with federal safety regulations? They can show up to investigate if someone says they were fired for reporting violations. They can also slap you with a $13,494 fine for serious violations.
2. State action
OSHA isn’t the only player in the workplace safety game. Many states run their workplace safety enforcement organizations of their own. These organizations do inspections and investigations related to state-level workplace safety laws, which can prove even more stringent than federal rules. They can also issue fines if they find that you’ve violated state safety regulations. These fines are typically on par with federal fines.
Most workplace injuries are covered by state-level Workers’ Compensation programs, which prevents lawsuits for most injuries. However, employers who knowingly endanger worker safety can still find themselves on the wrong side of a lawsuit. Additionally, federal agencies can file lawsuits against businesses for workplace safety failures or retaliatory firing. Where OSHA leaves off, the EEOC can step in and file suit for less specific workplace safety violations, such hostile work environments and harassment of those in a protected class, such as sex, race, or religious affiliation.
Even conscientious businesses can have minor slip-ups where workplace safety is concerned. That is why most inspectors issue warnings and then follow up. It’s an opportunity for the business to correct the error. When businesses fail on serious safety issues or don’t correct them, the situation changes. It can leave you open for investigations, fines, and even lawsuits.
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