Possible Prison Time for Workplace Safety Violations 

January, 2016 - Stephen L. Corso, Poorav K. Rohatgi

The recent Memorandum of Understanding (the “MOU”) between the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and Department of Labor (“DOL”) reinvigorated the Worker Endangerment Initiative by “redoubling” the agencies’ cooperative “efforts to hold accountable those who unlawfully jeopardize workers’ health and safety,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates announced on December 17, 2015. An accompanying memorandum sent to all 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country uses the relatively lower misdemeanor penalties of criminal sanctions under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the “OSH Act”) as an impetus to urge federal prosecutors to couple workplace safety violations with other serious offenses carrying penalties ranging from 5 to 20 years imprisonment and significant fines. Those offenses include conspiracy, false statements, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and environmental and endangerment crimes. This development follows the Yates memo, which compels federal prosecutors to “combat corporate misconduct” by indicting culpable individuals at all levels, including managers, supervisors and corporate officers, in addition to indicting the companies themselves.

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