11th Cir. Deals a Big Blow to OSHA’s Inspection Authority

By Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. DiSalvo

OSHA’s enforcement authority, specifically as it relates to the agency’s ability to expand an unprogrammed inspection beyond its original scope, has been limited, at least for employers in the Southeast.  Late last year, in United States v. Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a district court decision to quash an administrative inspection warrant that would have permitted OSHA to expand an inspection of Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc.’s (“Mar-Jac”) poultry processing facility in Georgia, initiated as a partial scope inspection in response to a single, specific reported injury, to become a comprehensive inspection under a Regional Emphasis Enforcement Program. This decision is important for employers because OSHA’s inspection authority has generally been understood to be quite broad, and judges have generally deferred to OSHA when applying the applicable administrative probable cause standard to OSHA’s inspection authority.  But in Mar-Jac, the 11th Circuit determined that an unprogrammed inspection initiated as a result of a specific reported injury could not lawfully be expanded to include other areas of the facility, other hazards unrelated to the specific reported injury, and other aspects of Mar-Jac’s safety program, because the evidence presented by OSHA in support of its warrant application was inadequate to establish reasonable suspicion of the presence of violative conditions unrelated to the reported injury.

Background of the Case

OSHA decided to inspect Mar-Jac’s poultry processing facility in Georgia after the facility called OSHA to report a serious injury that resulted in an in-patient hospitalization on February 4. 2016.  The injury occurred on February 3rd, when an employee attempted to repair an electrical panel with a non-insulated screwdriver, resulting in an arc flash and serious burns to the employee.  After receiving the injury report, OSHA opened an unprogrammed inspection at the facility on February 8th.  At that time, OSHA asked the employer for consent to inspect both Continue reading

Joint and Multi-Employer, Independent Contractor, and Temp Labor OSHA and Employment Issues [Webinar Recording]

On June 5, 2018, Jordan B. Schwartz, Eric J. Conn, and Lindsay A. DiSalvo of Conn Maciel Carey, presented a webinar regarding “Joint and Multi-Employer, Independent Contractor, and Temp Labor OSHA and Employment Law Issues.

Employers’ perceptions about their legal responsibilities for certain workers is not always reality, particularly in the context of oft-changing interpretations of what constitutes an employer-employee relationship. An employer may classify workers as a temp or independent contractor, but that does not mean DOL agrees. At the tail end of the Obama Admin.,  DOL issued guidance that a majority of workers should be treated as employees, insinuating that in most cases, employers are accountable for the obligations of an employer-employee relationship. However, the Trump Admin. appears is shifting gears. That guidance was withdrawn by new Sec. of Labor Acosta. Congress has also begun to undercut the broad joint-employer standard established by the NLRB in Browning-Ferris, by revisiting language in applicable laws. It remains essential for employers to carefully evaluate employment relationships and their own functions in the multi-employer context.

Even if there is no legal employer-employee relationship, companies may have safety obligations and liability depending on their role at multi-employer worksites or when using temporary workers. Protection of temporary workers was a priority of OSHA in the prior Admin., and the guidance developed in that context remains the current standard for host employers and staffing agencies. OSHA has also stood by its multi-employer policy, though it is being challenged in federal court.

Participants in this webinar learned about: Continue reading

Reporting In-Patient Hospitalizations to OSHA: Common Misunderstandings and Mistakes

By Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. DiSalvo

The regulatory requirement at 29 C.F.R. 1904.39, OSHA’s Fatality and Serious Injury Reporting Rule, which requires employers to report to OSHA certain in-patient hospitalizations, may seem straightforward, but there are several nuances employers routinely miss that affect the determination whether a hospitalization is actually reportable to OSHA.

Although failing to timely report a reportable hospitalization can be cited, and could set up an employer for costly Repeat violations, over-reporting has its own significant consequences.  Reporting hospitalizations very often triggers an on-site enforcement inspection, and OSHA issues a citation at least 75% of the time it conducts an inspection (an even higher percentage for incident inspections).  Moreover, at least 85% of OSHA citations are characterized as Serious, Repeat or Willful, and OSHA’s civil penalty authority has skyrocketed by 80% in the past two years.  Accordingly, it is critical that employers understand the intricacies of what makes an employee’s visit to the hospital a reportable event, and conversely, what does not, so as to avoid unnecessary and costly reports to OSHA.

As we outlined in a prior article discussing OSHA’s updated Fatality and Serious Injury Reporting Rule, under the current reporting requirements, employers must:

“within 24 hours after the in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees [that occurs within 24 hours of the work-related incident] . . . report the in-patient hospitalization . . . to OSHA.”

This is a significant change from the prior reporting rule, which required a report to OSHA only if three or more employees were hospitalized overnight.  It was extraordinarily rare that a single workplace incident resulted in the overnight hospitalization of three or more workers, and so the instances of reporting under that rule were infrequent.  The new rule, however, requires a report to OSHA for the hospitalization of a single employee, which has opened the door to thousands more incidents that must be evaluated for possible reporting.

Although the current regulation has increased the number of employee hospitalizations that are being reported to OSHA, many of those incidents reported to OSHA did not actually meet the criteria for reporting, based on a very particular definition of hospitalization and a limited time period for when the hospitalization must occur.  In other words, many incidents are being reported to OSHA (effectively inviting OSHA to conduct a site enforcement inspection) that should not have been reported at all. Continue reading

Joint and Multi-Employer, Independent Contractor, and Temp Worker Employment Law and OSHA Issues [Webinar Recording]

On July 11, 2017 attorneys from Conn Maciel Carey’s national Labor & Employment Practice and OSHA Practice, delivered a webinar regarding Joint and Multi-Employer, Independent Contractor, and Temp Worker Employment Law and OSHA Issues.”

Employers’ perceptions about their legal responsibilities for certain workers is not always reality.  Although an employer may classify workers as temporary workers or independent contractors, that does not mean the Department of Labor takes the same view.  At the tail end of the Obama Administration, DOL was vocal about its belief that most workers should be treated as employees, insinuating that in most cases, employers will be accountable for the specific obligations of an employer-employee relationship.  The Trump Administration is moving in the other direction, but a lot of questions remain unanswered or muddled.  DOL has also been cracking down on employee misclassification and division of responsibility among multiple employers. Additionally, employers continue to have certain safety and health related obligations and potential OSHA liability depending on their role at multi-employer worksites or in joint employer situations.

It is essential for employers to carefully evaluate the employment relationship and their own individual function in the multi-employer context.

This webinar covered:

  • Criteria used to evaluate the employer-employee relationship
  • Employers roles on a multi-employer worksite and the specific obligations associated with each role
  • Guidance on how to clearly establish an independent contractor relationship
  • How to lawfully and effectively manage temporary workers at your workplace

Here is a link to a recording of the webinar. Continue reading

Trump Taps Fast Food CEO Andrew Puzder for Sec. of Labor: Seismic Shift Coming to DOL Regulatory Agenda

By Andrew J. Sommer and Lindsay A. DiSalvo

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Andrew Franklin “Andy” Puzder to nominate as his Secretary of Labor, according to Trump’s transition team.  Mr. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Holdings, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.  He has been a vocal critic of the Obama Labor Department’s overtime regulations and efforts to increase the federal minimum wage. puzderAs Labor Secretary, Mr. Puzder will oversee the federal apparatus that investigates violations of minimum wage, overtime and workplace safety laws and regulations.

Puzder on Wage and Hour Issues

An increase in the federal minimum wage and an expansion in overtime eligibility have been priorities for the outgoing Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.  On Sec. Perez’s watch, the Department of Labor has issued new overtime regulations increasing the minimum salary threshold level in order to qualify an employee as exempt from overtime.  Mr. Puzder denounced this new overtime rule.  In an op-ed piece earlier this year in Forbes, Puzder said:

“[the overtime regulation] will add to the extensive regulatory maze the Obama Administration has imposed on employers, forcing many to offset increased labor expense by cutting costs elsewhere. . . .  [This cost cutting would result in reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits and promotions.]”

The status of the new overtime rule is presently uncertain after a Texas federal court temporarily blocked the rule from taking effect.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has just granted the Department of Labor’s request to expedite the appeal from that preliminary injunction order, but that appeal is unlikely to be decided before Trump is inaugurated as the next president on January 20, 2017.  Accordingly, under Mr. Puzder’s leadership, the DOL could very well withdraw the pending appeal before a decision is issued by the Fifth Circuit, and otherwise not support the new overtime rule. Even if the overtime rule eventually takes effect, Puzder’s arsenal will include the authority to engage in rulemaking to roll back or modify the overtime rule, consistent with the notice and comment process under the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

Other immediate measures Puzder could take to shift or reverse the direction of the Obama DOL would be to Continue reading