Employment-related crimes.

AuthorRingley, Nina
PositionTwenty-Second Annual Survey of White Collar Crime
  1. INTRODUCTION II. WORKER SAFETY A. Occupational Safety and Health Act 1. Employer's Willful Violation of Standard Causing Death. a. Elements of the Offense i. Employer ii. Willful Violation iii. Specific Standard iv. Causes Death b. Defenses i. Preemption ii. Isolated Occurrence iii. Impossibility of Compliance iv. Greater Hazard v. General Defenses 2. False Representations 3. Enforcement 4. Penalties B. Federal Mine Safety and Health Act III. THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT A. Elements of the Offense 1. Employee 2. Employer 3. Willful Violation B. Penalties C. Enforcement IV. PAYMENT OR LOANS BY EMPLOYER TO EMPLOYEES OR LABOR ORGANIZATIONS A. Elements of the Offense 1. Employer 2. Willfulness 3. Pay or Lend Money or Thing of Value 4. Employee or Representative of an Employee 5. Requests or Receives B. Exceptions C. Penalties V. PROTECTING UNION FUNDS UNDER THE LABOR-MANAGEMENT REPORTING AND DISCLOSURE ACT A. Elements of the Offense 1. Officer or Employee 2. Appropriation of Union Assets for One's Own or Another's Purpose 3. Fraudulent Intent B. Defenses C. Penalties I. INTRODUCTION

    This article analyzes criminal statutes that punish employers for violations of occupational safety and employment standards. The regulatory scheme was enacted to ensure worker safety, eliminate labor conditions detrimental to the nation's commerce and the general welfare of workers, and provide labor unions with greater protection from corrupt union and management officials. Section II of this article discusses criminal sanctions relevant to worker safety under the Occupational Safety and Health Act ("OSH Act") (1) and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act ("FMSHA"). (2) Section III analyzes criminal sanctions applicable to employment practices under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). (3) Section IV discusses the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), which prohibits employers from making payments and loans to employees or labor organizations. (4) Finally, section V reviews [section] 501(c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), which prevents appropriations of union funds for non-union purposes. (5)


    This section discusses criminal laws relevant to worker safety. Part A analyzes the OSH Act (6) by examining two offenses: (i) willful violation of a specific standard resulting in employee death and (ii) false representation. In addition, this section discusses enforcement of these provisions and the applicable penalties for offenses. Part B discusses the FMSHA, (7) including the elements of the offenses.

    A. Occupational Safety and Health Act

    Congress enacted the OSH Act in response to increasing numbers of employee deaths and injuries in the late 1960s. (8) The OSH Act's general duty clause requires employers to furnish their employees with a working environment free from recognized hazards, and the special duty clause requires employers to comply with the standard promulgated under this Act. (9) The statute also requires compliance with specific occupational safety and health rules promulgated by the Secretary of Labor. (10)

    The OSH Act provides for criminal sanctions (11) in three situations: (i) when an employer's willful violation of a standard, rule, order, or regulation causes the death of an employee; (12) (ii) when an individual makes a false representation regarding OSH Act compliance; (13) and (iii) when any person gives advance notice of an inspection. (14)

    1. Employer's Willful Violation of Standard Causing Death

      a. Elements of the Offense

      If (i) an employer (ii) willfully violates (iii) a specific standard, rule, order, or regulation, (iv) which causes the death of an employee, criminal sanctions may be imposed. (15)

      i. Employer

      The OSH Act defines an employer as "a person engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees, but does not include the United States ... or any State or political subdivision of a State." (16) Although corporate officers in their individual capacities may be criminally sanctioned under the OSH Act, (17) in the Third, Fifth, and Seventh Circuits a "mere employee" (one who is not an officer) cannot be held criminally liable for aiding and abetting an employer. (18)

      In multiple-employer workplaces, the employer who creates or controls a hazard may be liable for hazards affecting employees of the other employers in that workplace. (19) This doctrine applies when more than one party's employees share a single workplace. (20) In addition, the employer controlling the workplace may be liable for hazards to other employer's employees, even if the controlling employer did not create the hazard. (21) Of the courts to consider the multi-employer doctrine, only the Fifth Circuit has rejected it. (22) The D.C. Circuit has specifically avoided ruling on the issue. (23)

      ii. Willful Violation

      "Willful violation" is not defined in the OSH Act. Most courts have generally followed the Review Commission and Secretary of Labor's interpretation: a voluntary action, done with either intentional disregard of, or with plain indifference to, the statutory requirements. (24) Even a single violation may be found to be willful, regardless of whether the workplace is otherwise safe. (25) Some circuits impose liability without requiring a showing of malice or bad intent. (26) Finally, a simple good faith belief that alternative measures are in compliance with the purpose of a standard is not sufficient to avoid liability. (27)

      iii. Specific Standard

      To violate the OSH Act, an employer must willfully or repeatedly fail to comply with a specific standard, rule, order, or regulation. (28) The Secretary of Labor has the burden of proving a willful violation occurred. (29) Employers are typically cited for willful violations of a specific safety standard, (30) although they are still subject to the general duty clause. (31)

      iv. Causes Death

      For an employer to be held criminally liable, the willful violation must result in the death of an employee. (32) The OSH Act defines employee as "an employee of an employer who is employed in a business of his employer which affects commerce." (33) Causation has not been a significant issue because the legislative history of the OSH Act seems to support a lenient interpretation of the definition. (34)

      b. Defenses

      This section discusses the following defenses available to an employer: (i) preemption; (ii) isolated occurrence; (iii) impossibility of compliance; (iv) greater hazard; and (v) additional general defenses. The employer has the burden of raising and proving an affirmative defense. (35)

      i. Preemption

      An employer may be able to present an affirmative defense of preemption. Occupation Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") regulations governing the working conditions of employees (36) are preempted by regulations or standards affecting occupational safety and health enacted by other federal agencies. (37) Although the rationale supporting such preemption is broadly phrased, the determination of whether the OSH Act is preempted turns on whether other agencies have explicitly regulated occupational safety. (38)

      ii. Isolated Occurrence

      The isolated occurrence defense (39) is one of the most frequently litigated defenses to OSH Act citations. (40) Under this defense, employers can assert that the violation in question resulted from an isolated occurrence caused by the inappropriate or unforeseeable action of a single employee. (41) When there is a violation of the general duty clause and an employer asserts this defense, the burden of proof is on the Secretary of Labor. (42)

      There is a split among the federal circuit courts as to who has the burden of proof when this defense is raised in the context of a violation of the special duty clause. In the majority of circuits, when the Secretary of Labor has made a prima facie case of violation of the special duty clause, the defense is considered affirmative. (43) These circuits require that, in order to assert the defense successfully, the employer must demonstrate that it: (i) established a safety rule; (ii) adequately communicated the rule to employees; (iii) took steps to discover noncompliance; and (iv) effectively enforced the rule when violations were discovered. (44) However, the Third, Fourth, and Tenth Circuits require the Secretary to establish, as part of his prima facie case, that the violation was not the result of unforeseeable employee misconduct. (45)

      iii. Impossibility of Compliance

      An employer can assert the defense of impossibility if compliance cannot be achieved. (46) To establish this defense, the employer must prove that: (i) compliance was not possible or would preclude performance of the work; (47) and (ii) alternative safety measures were used when available. (48)

      iv. Greater Hazard

      An employer may also assert the avoidance of a greater hazard as an affirmative defense. (49) To establish the greater hazard defense, the employer must prove that: (i) the hazards of compliance are greater than the hazards of noncompliance; (ii) alternative means of protection were unavailable; (50) and (iii) a variance was unavailable or inappropriate. (51)

      v. General Defenses

      The OSH Act imposes a six month statute of limitations on the issuance of citations. (52) In addition, an employer may claim that OSHA's failure to issue a citation "with reasonable promptness" is cause for vacating the citation. (53) However, courts have declined to credit this defense absent an affirmative showing that prejudice resulted from the delay. (54)

      An employer can also claim vindictive prosecution. (55) The four elements of vindictive prosecution are: "(i) the exercise of a protected right; (ii) the prosecutor's 'stake' in the exercise of that right; (iii) the unreasonableness of the prosecutor's conduct; and, presumably, (iv) that the prosecution was initiated with the intent to punish the plaintiff for exercise of the protected right." (56)

    2. False Representations

      The OSH Act...

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