DOL COVID Workplace Safety Fines Approach $2.5 Million, Foreshadowing Stricter Enforcement

November 13, 2020

With a Biden administration expected to quickly beef up enforcement and publish an emergency workplace safety standard for COVID-19, employers can expect greater scrutiny of their efforts to protect employees during the pandemic.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued $2,496,768 in workplace safety fines related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

To date, nearly all the establishments cited for violations have been nursing homes and medical facilities, but that list is expected to significantly expand after January 20, 2021.

New Jersey remained the state with the most violators.  Six other states were also named: Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas.

Worker health and safety advocates say the agency still is not doing enough to protect workers.  In a Law360 article, Deborah Berkowitz, the Worker Health and Safety program director at the National Employment Law Project, called the latest fines "just more of the same small slaps on wrists."

Outlook:  OSHA can quickly put in place an emergency workplace rule after January 20th and is also likely to more aggressively enforce the OSH Act’s general duty clause requirement that employers provide a work environment “free from recognized hazards” in the interim.