OSHA to increase civil penalties

by Erica Shaffer
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WASHINGTON – Employers in violation of federal labor laws can expect to pay heftier fines. The US Dept. of Labor released two interim final rules that will adjust civil penalties for inflation based on the last time each penalty was increased.

The first rule covers the majority of penalties assessed by the agency’s five units —  Employee Benefits Security Administration, Mine Safety and Health Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, and Wage and Hour Division.

For example, OSHA’s maximum penalties will increase by 78 percent. The maximum penalties for serious violations will rise to $12,471 from $7,000. Willful or repeated violations will incur a penalty of $124,709, an increase from $70,000.

A list of each agency’s individual penalty adjustments also was released.

The department plans to issue the second rule jointly with the Dept. of Homeland Security to adjust penalties associated with the H-2B temporary guest worker program. The H-2B program allows US employers to hire foreign nationals to fill non-agricultural jobs.

“Civil penalties should be a credible deterrent that influences behavior far and wide,” said US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. “Adjusting our penalties to keep pace with the cost of living can lead to significant benefits for workers and can level the playing field [for] responsible employers who should not have to compete with those who don’t follow the law.”

The interim final rules cap the amount of penalty increases at 150 percent of the existing penalty amount. The new civil penalty amounts apply only to civil penalties assessed after Aug. 1, 2016, whose associated violations occurred after Nov. 2, 2015. The Labor Dept. will accept public comments for 45 days to inform the publication of any final rule.

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