When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is contacted by a whistleblower, it can be extremely stressful and may result in a surprise inspection, which, in turn, may garner unexpected and frustrating citations. Furthermore, the whistleblower may fear retaliation, which is likely to add even more stress as you navigate keeping your employees happy without inadvertently singling anyone out.
If you have been contacted by OSHA in reference to a whistleblower claim or would like to dispute a citation made during an OSHA inspection, contact the Jacksonville construction attorneys with Cotney Construction Law. We will discuss your rights and ensure that every legal avenue is pursued to keep your business safe. OSHA citations may result in fines of $12,000 or more, so it is vital to dispute each violation correctly.
Related: 6 Tips for Handling an OSHA Citation
Be Proactive Before an Inspection
There are only two ways an OSHA compliance officer can enter your facility, office, or jobsite; they must either have a warrant, or you can invite them in. A warrant is actually harder to come by than most people assume. There are instances in which even some of the most experienced construction professionals think they have no other choice than to let OSHA into their jobsite, but this is certainly not the case. You have more rights than you may know, including the right to refuse entry if the inspector doesn’t have a warrant, stop an investigation at any time in the process, and request a different inspector if you have an issue with the current officer.
It’s important to be proactive before an inspection and have a plan to contact a Jacksonville OSHA lawyer should an OSHA inspection be requested. You have the legal right to have your attorney present during an inspection, and if you choose not to have an attorney present, you will still benefit from discussing the inspection process with a seasoned and experienced attorney.
Request an Informal Conference
When you receive an OSHA citation, you are given the option to have an informal conference with an OSHA area director. Take advantage of this opportunity. The informal conference gives you a chance to gain valuable information about the citation, present evidence, and negotiate a possible settlement. The information gathered in this meeting can also be used should you choose to contest the citation. Before requesting or attending an informal conference, you should always contact your attorney first.
Gather and Organize All Evidence and Information
If you plan to contest an OSHA citation, it’s important that you have easy access to your supporting information. There are a number of defenses that you or your attorney can use to refute aspects of the citation, but they all require proof. Whether you are proving “unavoidable employee misconduct” or that a violation doesn’t directly apply to a company procedure, you will need to be able to support your claim.
It’s helpful to investigate the areas that are being called into question independently to determine the validity of the citation and show OSHA that you are making a good faith effort to keep your workplace safe. That “good faith” effort could even lead to a reduction in your OSHA fine.
Do Not Sign a Statement
If an OSHA officer asks you to sign something, your answer should be “no.” An investigator may write down what you say during an interview and ask you to sign in order to verify what you said; however, you must be aware that they have probably not shed you in the best light. Remember, an OSHA officer will never give a statement that vindicates you.
Sometimes an OSHA officer may go so far as to try to trick you into signing by asking you to read a document and sign as an affirmation that you understand. If this occurs, you should just say, “Yes, I read and understand the document.” The officer can make a note of your verbal yes; there is no need for you to sign anything. Remember, signing includes initialing a document. Even a seemingly harmless, “Would you please initial here to verify that I showed you the document?” can get you into a bind if you go to court.
Contact an Attorney
If you have received citations during an OSHA inspection or have a dispute due to a whistleblower claim, OSHA has an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program in place. A Jacksonville construction dispute attorney will discuss your rights through the ADR program and help ensure that you meet all deadlines relating to the OSHA violations. Further, an attorney can help you understand the best ways to keep employees happy without fear of retaliation.
A Jacksonville construction attorney with Cotney Construction Law will walk you through the entire process and will help keep your business safe before, during, and after an OSHA citation or dispute. If you have issues with a construction dispute, Cotney Construction Law’s experienced attorneys will provide sound legal advice to construction professionals at every level and can assist your firm with any construction need. Not only do we advise our clients on legal matters, but we also provide a myriad of other valuable services for construction businesses, including contract review, employment law advice, and litigation and arbitration services. We also advocate for clients involved in licensing complaints, permitting issues, stop-work orders, business immigration, and more.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.