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A large percentage of California employers operate their business ethically and in accordance with California State laws. However, there are some employers who do not abide by the law or provide a safe work environment for their employees.
What do you do if you notice a particularly dangerous situation in the workplace? Do you tell your supervisor about it or do you make a formal complaint?
According to Cal/OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), when an employee believes that their working conditions are unhealthy or dangerous, their first step would be to notify their employer of the problem. If their employer does not fix the problem, or if they don't agree that there is a problem, the employee has the right to file a complaint with Cal/OSHA and request an official inspection.
The employee can file their complaint with the nearest Cal/OSHA enforcement district office if they believe there is a serious safety issue at their workplace. Once they file a complaint, Cal/OSHA will evaluate the complaint to determine if there are reasonable grounds for conducting an inspection. If a complaint inspection is conducted, Cal/OSHA will keep the employee's identification confidential, and they won't reveal the specifics of the compliant so they don't identify the complainant; the employer is not given a copy of the complaint.
For those complainants who identify themselves, they will be notified of the results of the investigation. If Cal/OSHA determines that there haven't been any violations, they will send a written notice of this determination to the complainant.
No California employee shall be fired, or punished, or discriminated against in any way for filing a bona fide complaint regarding an unsafe or unhealthful working condition. Any employee who believes they have been discriminated against has the right to file a complaint within six months with the Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.
If Cal/OSHA determines that an inspection is necessary, then the Cal/OSHA enforcement engineer or industrial hygienist may issue any one of the following to the employer:
- Notice – If the violation will not immediately affect the health and safety of the employees, a regulatory notice might be issued.
- Special Order – If there isn't an existing standard for the violation, a special order can be issued, telling the employer to reduce the hazard.
- Order to take Special Action – Where a safety order exists, Cal/OSHA may require the employer to take special action, indicating what the employer must do to comply with the safety order.
- Information Memorandum – This is issued when the condition has the potential to become a hazardous situation in the future.
Citation – Citations are issued for violations which affect the health and safety of the employees. These can be issued for the following reasons:
- Regulatory Violations – Cited when the employer fails to comply with any record keeping, posting, or permit requirements.
- General Violations – Cited when an employee was involved in an accident or became ill as a direct result of a violation, and when such violation would have a direct affect on the health and safety of the employees.
- Serious Violation – These occur when the violation can lead to serious physical harm or death for the workers.
- Willful Violation – When the employer committed an intentional violation, as distinguished from an inadvertent or accidental violation. With a willful violation, the employer was conscious of the fact they were in violation, and they were aware the dangerous situation existed and they made no effort to eliminate the danger.
- Repeat Violations – Refer to violations made within three years of the previous violation.
When an employer does not abate a condition that has been previously cited by Cal/OSHA, they are issued a "failure to abate," which is categorized as either serious or general.
Civil & Criminal Penalties
When employers fail to abate a violation, they face civil penalties up to $15,000 a day for their failure to correct the violation by the date provided on their citation. For serious violations, employers may be assessed a civil penalty up to $25,000. Penalties for regulatory violations are generally a maximum of $7,000 for each repeat violation. However, those employers who willfully violate an order from Cal/OSHA may be assessed up to $70,000 for each repeat violation.
If a willful action on behalf of the employer caused death, or permanent impairment to any of their employees, upon conviction the employer may face $250,000 in fines, or 3 years in prison, or both, but the fine cannot exceed $1.5 million.
Have you been injured at work in Walnut Creek or the Bay Area?
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