The California Supreme Court recently ruled that employers aren't protected from civil lawsuits when they face penalties and fines from the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That means district attorneys' offices across the state can pursue civil damages in separate suits, Safety + Health magazine said. This is a major change for businesses, as the state supreme court reversed a prior appellate court decision that indicated Cal/OSHA penalties superseded civil lawsuits in such instances.
"Businesses in California can now face fines and penalties from OSHA and DAs."
The court ruling indicates the decision the state made to manage and monitor employee health and safety directly, instead of falling under the supervision of the federal government, had an important role to play in the decision.
"We reiterate the strong presumption against preemption, arising both from the fact that the federal legislation addresses an area that has been the long-standing subject of state regulation and from the fact that California has assumed responsibility under the federal OSH Act to regulate worker safety and health, thereby preempting federal law," the California Supreme Court stated in its opinion, according to Safety + Health.
While California has some of the most consumer- and employee-friendly laws in the country, this precedent is an important one to watch for businesses that operate in other states that have direct control over workplace safety enforcement. As Manatt Phelps & Phillips, LLP, pointed out, businesses in California can now face unfair competition and false advertising law violations brought against them by district attorneys, increasing everything from financial penalties to negative perception. There's no indication courts in other states will make similar rulings in the near future - a challenge would have to reach the highest state court for a similar situation to even appear - but it's certainly worth noting for businesses in California and other states with individual OSHA plans.