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There are some companies that set the bar for safety across industries, recognized as some of the safest companies in the U.S. Then, there are companies who…fall short of the curve.
Unfortunately, not all companies take their safety responsibilities as seriously as others. And when that happens, employees can get hurt.
Employees shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of an employer’s negligence, but can a company be sued for not caring about employee safety? The answer is more complicated than you’d think.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970, employers have a legal responsibility to protect employee safety.
OSHA spells out several employer responsibilities, but they all boil down to the same point in the General Duty Clause: employers have a responsibility to provide their employees with a workplace free of recognized hazards, as well as complying with safety and health standards promulgated under the OSH Act.
In other words, if an employer doesn’t care about employee safety, they’re disregarding their legal responsibility under federal law.
So, can a company be sued for not caring about employee safety? If they’re neglecting their legal duty, the answer seems pretty obvious, but unfortunately, it’s not quite so clear-cut.
That’s because of liability complications introduced by workers’ compensation.
Basically, workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system designed to compensate employees for injuries without thorny legal questions of who is to blame. The idea is to avoid litigation and ensure that compensation is distributed no matter what. That’s a good thing for both sides–it means employees will get workers’ compensation claims paid out, employers can carry on with work, and both sides can avoid lengthy and expensive litigation.
Unfortunately, this also means that employers are shielded from legal liability in exchange for paying into the no-fault workers’ compensation system.
To be clear, this does not mean that any company with workers’ compensation insurance cannot be sued for neglecting safety. Liability protection under workers’ compensation does not hold up in the face of gross negligence or blatant wrongdoing.
Basically, a company can be sued for not caring about safety, provided that you can make a solid case for gross negligence or blatant wrongdoing. There are limited exceptions where employees may be held responsible for unsafe behavior, but OSHA rarely grants them–especially not in cases where there’s reason to believe the employer was at fault.
Regardless of lawsuits, there are OSHA penalties that can cost a company up to $13,653 for each serious violation.
Can a company be sued for not caring about employee safety? In short, yes. But you shouldn’t reach the point where safety is so far out of hand.
Our safety management software makes it easy to get safety in check, with powerful analytics covering almost every element of your safety program. So if you’re ready for a safer workday, get in touch to learn how our software can make it happen.
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