Companies are made up of people, who serve as agents of the organization and who take action on the organization’s behalf. Companies cannot, by definition, act on their own. A company acts only when its people act. As a result, if a company breaks the law or does something wrong, this means the people working for the company broke the law.
Despite this obvious legal truth, there are many situations where companies are found to be violating Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) laws– and are even found to be violating other state or federal laws– but are facing nothing more than an OSHA citation and fine. Employers generally can’t be sued because Atlanta workers’ compensation claims are the exclusive remedy under Georgia law…. and CEOs are rarely held accountable in a criminal case.
OSHA Lacking Tools to Impose Criminal Accountability
Safety News Alert recently provided information on a report published by the office of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. The report was called Rigged Justice: How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy.
The report contained 20 different case studies in which employees were hurt, employees were killed, and/or significant property damage occurred. Examples included, for instance, a situation where 29 miners died due to an explosion in a mine run by a company with a history of violating safety rules. Another example detailed the exposure of four employees to methyl mercaptan gas, which caused four worker deaths.
In all of these examples, OSHA fines were levied against the company. However, the executives were either not held accountable (most commonly) or faced very minimal criminal charges, like the misdemeanor the CEO of the mine company was convicted of after the 29 fatalities on his watch. The misdemeanor carried a maximum sentence of only a year imprisonment, despite the 29 deaths which occurred.
Warren’s report indicates more prosecutions should be occurring, but aren’t, because of a lack of resources and a lack of important legal tools. OSHA is underfunded, for example, and can barely keep up with its workload of responding to work injuries and issuing citations when problems are found. OSHA cannot also take upon itself the responsibility to make sure prosecutors are going after executives who failed to follow safety rules.
In some cases, the conduct of CEOs and other executives does not actually fall into a clearcut definition of any particular criminal act. A company executive cannot be charged with a crime in every tragedy just because something went wrong. However, there are many situations where there should be laws to hold CEOS accountable for a series of bad decisions leading to worker deaths- but there aren’t.
Without funding, without resources, and without legal provisions that could actually be used to prosecute a CEO, executives end up getting off without any consequences even in many situations where their actions were the direct cause of harm to injured workers.
Parsons & Associates, P.C. is an Atlanta workers’ compensation law firm serving Atlanta, Savannah, and surrounding areas throughout Fulton County. Contact Parsons & Associates, P.C. today at 770-422-9000 or contact us online if you have been injured at work.