Q. Our company just received a citation from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The proposed penalty is only $120. Is it worth getting a lawyer involved, or should we just go ahead and pay the fine?
A. You should definitely discuss the situation with an attorney experienced in OSHA matters. The amount of the proposed penalty is rarely the chief consideration in deciding how to handle a citation.
One of the most important factors you must consider is the cost of abatement. When OSHA issues a citation and the employer doesn’t challenge it, the employer must correct the condition cited. In many instances, that’s easy. In other cases, however, the cost of correcting the condition can be hundreds or thousands of times more expensive than the proposed penalty.
Other factors you should consider include:
- The technological feasibility of abating the condition
- The possibility of the condition recurring and the company receiving a “repeat” citation—potentially an even more important consideration given increased emphasis on enforcement activity under the Obama administration
- The possibility of criminal liability
- The impact of the citation on other pending litigation
- Whether there are good defenses to the citation
After considering these factors, and any others that may apply based on the conditions and the safety standard cited, it might not be worth contesting a $120 penalty. Just don’t base your decision solely on the amount of the penalty.
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