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Criminal Collaboration: DOL and DOJ Team Up to Raise the Stakes for Workplace Safety Violations


February 5, 2016

Late last year, the U.S. Departments of Labor ("DOL") and Justice ("DOJ") entered into a memorandum of understanding ("MOU") for the coordination of matters pertaining to worker safety, the violation of which could lead to criminal prosecution by the DOJ.

            The goal of the MOU is to increase the frequency and effectiveness of criminal prosecution of worker health and safety law violations. Specifically, the new approach provided for in the MOU is expected to result in stiffer enforcement of three laws: the Occupational Safety and Health Act ("OSH Act"), the Mine Safety and Health Act ("Mine Act"), and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("MSPA").  Notably, employers are subject to criminal penalties and imprisonment for: 1) willful violations of an OSH standard that causes the death of an employee; 2) knowing or willful violations of mandatory Mine Act or MSPA standards; 3) providing advance notice of OSH or Mine Act inspection activity; 4) or falsifying documents filed or required to be maintained under the OSH or Mine Acts.

            If a decision is made to refer a matter for consideration of criminal action, the DOL will prepare a detailed referral memorandum and recommendation, and the referral may be made to the Environmental Crimes Section of the DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division, or to a U.S. Attorney's Office in judicial districts in which the DOL has an established relationship with that office.

Pursuant to the MOU, the DOL has agreed to make its investigative files available to the DOJ as needed for case development or litigation purposes, and the DOL and DOJ both agreed to cooperate in developing and conducting training programs for their personnel regarding criminal prosecution of worker health and safety law violations. 

As a result of the rigorous enforcement approach outlined in the MOU, employers and management employees can expect more frequent and more rigorous criminal investigations and prosecutions of violations of the OSH Act, Mine Act, and MSPA.  We therefore encourage employers to reevaluate their safety and health programs, develop and strengthen their employee training programs, and contact their Elarbee Thompson attorney for further guidance on compliance with the OSH Act, Mine Act, and the MSPA, and the new enforcement regime set out under the MOU.

If you have any questions about your compliance with workplace safety requirements, please do not hesitate to contact an Elarbee Thompson attorney.