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Cal/OSHA Drops the Hammer on Employers and Issues  COVID-19 Safety Citations
Sep 8, 2020

Cal/OSHA Drops the Hammer on Employers and Issues COVID-19 Safety Citations

Topics: OSHA Issues

Last month we forecasted that Cal/OSHA was primed to issue COVID-19 safety citations in the near future.  Low and behold those predictions have come to fruition, and just in time for the Labor Day holiday.

In a public press release issued last Friday, Cal/OSHA has cited eleven employers for failing to protect workers from COVID-19, because they “did not take steps to update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the virus.”  Civil penalties assessed ranged from $2,025 to $51,190.  

Noticeably, the investigation that resulted in the highest amount of fines being imposed was “complaint-initiated” – meaning an employee called into OSHA – versus “accident-initiated” or otherwise based on an affirmative COVID-19 illness that occurred in the workplace and was reported to OSHA by the company as a serious illness.  This is significant because it reinforces the fact that just because no actual injury or illness occurred, does not mean that Cal/OSHA will go easy on employers regarding their Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) and COVID-19 workplace response plan.

Indeed, the $51,190 in fines most certainly stems from multiple “Serious” citations, highlighting that no actual injury or illness needs to occur in order for a serious citation to issue.  (See CDF’s Law360 article, here, discussing the low burden of proof required to establish a serious violation.)

In its press release, Cal/OSHA also highlighted how a particular employer was cited because they “did not ensure their workers were physically distanced at least six feet apart in the processing area, nor did they install Plexiglas or other barriers between the workers.”  It will be interesting to see what abatement is required by OSHA – whether that be better administrative controls and supervision, or the actual installation of physical barriers – and whether the employer will contest abatement under the “expedited” proceedings at the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board.  Regardless, depending on the extent of the hazard and the reasonableness of less-expensive and equally effective abatement methods, employers may very well have good reason to contest the abatement method prescribed by Cal/OSHA.

The above news from Cal/OSHA is unwelcomed, but was also highly expected.  Employers should use this as a wake-up call to take COVID-19 precautions in the workplace seriously, and to review and update their IIPP and COVID-19 response plans as needed.

About CDF

For over 25 years, CDF has distinguished itself as one of the top employment, labor and immigration firms in California, representing employers in single-plaintiff and class action lawsuits and advising employers on related legal compliance and risk avoidance. We cover the state, with five locations from Sacramento to San Diego.

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About the Editor

Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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