OSHA Warns Fines Must Be Paid or You (Individually) May Face "18 and Life"

Flaunt OSHA penalties at your own risk, because contempt of court can be costly, and individual liability adds an additional layer of concern.

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 Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently found the company President – and only board member – 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 and eventually the federal court of appeals. Its efforts concluded recently when the court found the company’s 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.

About the Authors

Benjamin Ross is an associate in the Denver office. Ben represents clients in a variety of matters under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (MSHA), Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Motor Carrier Safety Act, and other state and federal statutes regarding compliance issues, policy, legislative and regulatory matters, civil and criminal enforcement issues, accident investigations, and special investigations.

Travis Vance is a partner in the firm’s Charlotte office and co-chair of the firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group.

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