COVID Lawsuits: Workplace Safety Violations

COVID Lawsuits: Workplace Safety Violations 600 400 Balance Point Team

Health screenings, temperature checks, contact tracing, physical distancing, protective equipment, hygiene stations, cleaning protocols, documentation, and the list goes on…

The new responsibilities employers were faced with to ensure a safe working environment for their employees during the height of the pandemic were endless. Keeping up was a challenge.

It comes as no surprise that violations were—and are—still rampant. Since the start of the pandemic through the end of 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted more than 300 COVID-related inspections, and proposed penalties totaling nearly $4 million.

The highest fine given to a business in 2020 topped out at nearly $27,000.

The most common violations resulted from failures to:

  • Implement a written respiratory protection program
  • Provide employees with medical evaluations and training to ensure proper use of a respirator and personal protective equipment
  • Report an injury, illness, or fatality
  • Record an injury or illness on OSHA recordkeeping forms

Most businesses were cited with multiple violations. A full list can be found on the OSHA website.

Examples from the Courtroom

Arnold Walter Nursing Rehabilitation Center, a 200-bed nursing home in Holmdel, New Jersey was fined $22,000 for a slew of violations related to protective equipment regulations and misreporting employee deaths.

Georgetown Dental from Massachusetts was fined $24,569. The small, two-doctor dental practice was cited for seven total violations, with six of them classified as serious, including failing to provide medical evaluations and fit testing for employees required to wear respirators.

Nogales Produce Inc., a family-owned produce wholesaler from Dallas Texas was fined $10,410. Violations include failure to record illness and fatalities.

2021 Brings More Enforcement and Greater Penalties

Soon after taking office, President Biden began making good on his promise to “aggressively pursue employers who violate labor laws” by issuing the Protective Worker Health and Safety Executive Order. In response, OSHA launched a national emphasis program (NEP) that focuses enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk, such as hospitals, assisted living centers, and other health care and emergency response providers.

Employers outside of the health care industry should not become complacent. The NEP guidelines extend to all business, as evident in this case that was filed just days after the program was launched:

Liberty Tax Service from Massachusetts was fined a whopping $136,532 for “willfully failing to develop and implement measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.” The company was cited by OSHA for failing to provide adequate ventilation, requiring employees to work within six feet of each other, and prohibiting customers and employees from wearing masks. They were ultimately ordered to shut down due to negligence.

Best Practices

Investigations and citations stemming from OSHA violations are here to stay. Follow these best practices to protect your employees and avoid potential violations:

  • Stay on top of all guidelines– prevention is the best defense against litigation!
  • Develop a safety plan– an organization’s good faith efforts are taken into consideration when determining whether to issue citations
  • Communicate the safety plan to employees– make sure your employees know what measures are in place to protect them
  • Maintain documentation of all safety measures taken
  • Utilize HRIS software to document OSHA incidents and the organization’s response
  • Retain a competent, HR-accredited professional to guide you

Download Our Guide to Avoiding COVID-Related Lawsuits

COVID-related litigation may prove more damaging to business than anything employers have dealt with so far. Lawsuits are being filed fast and furiously and will be a threat in 2021 and beyond. In this guide we examine four trending areas of litigation and the actions you can take today to avoid being a statistic.

Download the Guide

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