Criminal Penalties for Employment Law Violations

HR Policy Association opposes legislation that would lower the level of intent required to impose criminal penalties such as jail time for violations of employment laws.   Currently, for criminal penalties to be imposed for employment law violations, an individual must have acted with “willful” intent, which generally requires an intentional violation, reckless disregard or plain indifference to a violation arising in the workplace.   However, it has been proposed that the “willful” standard should be lowered to one of “knowing.”  While this standard is new to employment law, under environmental laws the “knowing” standard generally means that the party in question merely knows that a given activity is taking place, not that there was a violation occurring or that environmental laws were being broken.  Criminal penalties are rarely used for employment law violations and when they are it is to punish an individual for an intentional and egregious violation of the law that resulted in significant bodily injury or death or substantial financial harm.  Thus, the Association believes that the “willful” standard is more appropriate.