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California employers can protect themselves from worker injuries

DOSH, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, can issue California businesses citations for violations at their place of business. Violations are classified as repeat, serious and willful misconduct, and any combination of these terms.

Interestingly, "willful" does not require any intent to break the law or injure an employee; it only implies a willingness to commit the violation itself.

If a violation is cited for any safety violation that causes the death or permanent injury of an employee, then the California business can actually be charged with criminal responsibility.

There are several ways that a California company can protect themselves from claims of criminal responsibility for a work-related injury. These include:

  • Take citations "seriously." Make every effort to comply with a serious citation. Failure to rectify a dangerous situation that leads to a death or serious personal injury can lead to a claim for criminal responsibility.
  • Do not "repeat" violations. Avoiding repeat violations in the workplace and correcting hazardous conditions from a citation can decrease the risk of a second citation and avoid a "willful" classification.
  • Contest citations. If you believe that you or your business has been wrongly accused of a workplace violation, you should seek help to defend your actions or inaction and to disprove that any failure was intentional.

In general, it is a good practice for California businesses to comply with state and federal workplace safety standards applicable to a particular line of work. Making every effort to comply with safety standards can help to prove that work-related injuries were unintended and not willful.

Source:, "CA Employers: Could You Be Criminally Liable for an Employee's Injury?," Sept. 13, 2011

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