Ever wonder what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would do if an employer refused to pay a fine? We just found out, and it’s not just the employer that needs to be concerned. After a New Jersey-based construction company failed for four years to pay $412,000 in penalties that the OSHA assessed against it, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals recently found the President – and only board member – of the company in contempt and therefore liable to pay the company’s penalty.
The Department of Labor pursued the company for years, seeking to enforce its penalty with multiple hearings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) and eventually the federal court of appeals. Its efforts concluded recently when the court found the President liable and ordered him to pay the entire penalty amount within 30 days. His liability will decrease by whatever his company pays and any amount that he demonstrates that he is unable to pay (apparently the court does not want him ending up on Skid Row).
This is an extreme situation, where an employer that was liable for a large penalty for numerous safety violations, never sought to negotiate a decreased amount or payment plan, and ignored the court of appeals’ orders to pay. But OSHA has sent a message, and will no doubt use this case to warn employers that it will do everything in its power to hold them accountable for their safety and penalty obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Flaunt OSHA penalties at your own risk, because contempt of court can be costly. And individual liability adds an additional layer of concern.
Contact any member of the Fisher Phillips Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group, with any questions about this case or other workplace safety matters, including issues that may arise relating to contesting OSHA citations and the payment of OSHA penalties.