The Law Offices of John Phebus

Criminal implications for safety violations on the job

Although Arizona employers can face charges for some safety violations, these are typically misdemeanor penalties at worst. However, a memorandum of understanding that was signed in December 2015 will leave more room for federal criminal prosecutions in the future. The agreement includes the Department of Justice as well as the Department of Labor, and it is designed to make it easier to deal with safety crimes through the court system. The two departments will coordinate more efficiently with each other to achieve this goal.

In some cases, the workplace violations might not meet the standards for criminal prosecution, which is why penalties might seem inadequate even in cases of serious injury or death involving an employee. However, some activities related to such a situation could fall under other areas of law. For example, intimidating one's employees might be deemed to be witness tampering during an investigation. False statements and obstruction of justice might be prosecuted apart from safety issues. Safety violations that also create environmental hazards could lead to serious charges through the Environmental Protection Agency. Because the criminal penalties in some cases could be up to 20 years of imprisonment, there may be a greater incentive for employers to be more careful about safety in the first place.

The understanding reached between DOL and DOJ is expected to facilitate increasing levels of scrutiny in work-related accidents, especially in cases involving the death of a worker. Because safety training is an area that is commonly streamlined on the job to save money, the agencies hope to increase the desire of employers to adhere to important standards.

An employer dealing with a workplace death might not necessarily expect to face criminal charges. However, it may be important to have a criminal defense attorney assist in dealing with such cases if they arise.

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