The California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973, better known as Cal/OSHA, was enacted for the purpose of assuring safe and healthy working conditions for all employees in California. Cal/OSHA advances its mission by enforcing safety and health standards as well as assisting and encouraging employers to maintain safe and healthy working conditions.
Pursuant to the California Labor Code, Cal/OSHA is required to investigate the cause of any employment accident that is fatal to one or more employees or that result in serious injury or illness.
Cal/OSHA may investigate the cause of any other industrial accident or illness. The act places a burden on employers to report work-related or suspected work-related fatalities, catastrophes, and serious injuries or illness immediately to Cal/OSHA.
As it is written, the act encourages employees to report unsafe or unhealthy working conditions and request an inspection of their workplace prior to injury or illness. Employees may report unsafe or unhealthy working conditions to Cal/OSHA at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh or 415-557-0300. Employees may choose to remain anonymous when reporting such conditions. The name of any person who submits a complaint to Cal/OSHA must be kept confidential if the person so requests.
Anonymity may not always be an option. When Cal/OSHA does investigate unsafe or unhealthy working conditions at a place of employment, they may interview employees. Fortunately, the authors of the act recognized that employees may be retaliated against for speaking with Cal/OSHA investigators or reporting dangerous conditions.
California Labor Code section 6310 expressly prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for speaking with Cal/OSHA. The authors understood that without whistleblower protection, employees may be deterred from reporting dangerous conditions.
Employees who feel they have been retaliated against may report their employer's retaliatory actions to the Labor Commissioner or pursue a civil action for violation of public policy.
After a thorough investigation, Cal/OSHA may require an employer which is in violation of health and safety standards, to take corrective measures. Cal/OSHA also has the authority to issue civil penalties against any employer. These civil penalties vary, depending on the danger the violation presented to employees.
Cal/OSHA is also proactive. When Cal/OSHA representatives are not investigating injuries or dangerous conditions they provide educational material, presentations, and safety training to both employees and employers. Employers should utilize Cal/OSHA's educational programs and onsite inspections to assist in the reduction of on-the-job injuries.
Ryan O'Connell and Neil Berman are lawyers with Rucka, O'Boyle, Lombardo & McKenna in Monterey.