By: Natasha L. Wilson, Esq., and Sumaya S. Ellard, Esq.
Senator Patty Murray (D. WA) and co-sponsor Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D. NH) recently reintroduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act (“PAWA”). PAWA is designed to expand the protections and enforcement scope of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”).
PAWA increases OSHA protections to include state, county, municipal and U.S. government employees. Moreover, PAWA increases whistleblower protections and improves OSHA reporting, inspection and enforcement. Specifically, PAWA increases coverage to include more of the 8.5 million federal, state, local government, and private sector employees that are currently outside of the Act’s protections.
PAWA expands whistleblower protections by including a number of procedural and administrative options that are unavailable under OSHA. Significantly, PAWA authorizes private rights of action if an employer fails to comply with an order providing relief. PAWA further allows complainants to move their cases to the next judicial stage if the appropriate administrative ruling body has not issued a decision in a timely manner. The most significant change to procedure is the increase of the statute of limitations period from 30 days to 180 days for filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. The longer filing period facilitates the filing of more retaliation cases previously foreclosed by the 30 day statute of limitations.
Moreover, PAWA increases the penalties for law breakers. The bill authorizes felony charges for an employer’s repeated and willful violations of OSHA that result in a worker’s death or serious injury. PAWA increases civil penalties and sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker’s death caused by a willful violation.
PAWA increases OSHA’s enforcement by mandating the investigation of all cases of death or serious incidents of injury of two or more employees. To that end, PAWA includes provisions requiring employers to take measures to protect against the spoliation of evidence.
Overall, PAWA clarifies an employer’s duty to provide a safe worksite. It amends the General Duty Clause to include all workers on the site and clarifies employer responsibility to provide necessary safety equipment.
Employers should stay abreast of PAWA’s movement in Congress because if it is passed PAWA could significantly impact employers by increasing the breadth of OSHA’s application to employers that were never previously covered, increase civil penalties for violations, expand employee protections and rights, and impose heightened safety guidelines.
Natasha L. Wilson and Sumaya S. Ellard are Attorneys in the Labor & Employment Practice Group in the Atlanta office of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Please stop by Exhibit Booth 201 in the Resource Partner Showcase to learn more about the firm and the services they provide. Their colleagues will also present during this year’s SHRM conference. David Long-Daniels and Brett Lane will present the topic “Gender Stereotypes and LGBT Employees – Turning a Powder Keg Into a Respectful Workplace,” on April 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm. Todd Wozniak and Pete Hall will present the topic “Whistleblower & Retaliation Law Update,” on April 30, 2013 at 3:00 pm. Natasha, Sumaya and the Greenberg Traurig attorneys look forward to meeting you at the 23rd Annual SHRM-Atlanta HR Conference.
Natasha L. Wilson focuses her practice on labor and employment law and devotes her legal practice to representing management in all aspects of employment law, from prevention and compliance issues to arbitration and litigation. She has litigated a wide variety of employment issues on the federal, state and local levels before courts and administrative agencies. Natasha works closely with her clients to provide counseling and consultation on employee matters, policy revisions, litigation prevention, and the implementation of sound employment practices.
Prior to joining the firm, Natasha was an associate with one of the largest law firms in the Southeast. Her prior litigation experience includes representation of clients in environmental and toxic tort defense and general business litigation. She also has experience in white collar criminal defense and corporate investigations, electronic discovery and digital information. Before entering law school, Natasha worked as a television journalist for seven years.
Sumaya S. Ellard focuses her practice on labor and employment matters. She has advised employers on Fair Labor Standard Act (FSLA) classifications and has represented clients in wage and hour issues. Sumaya has counseled employers on various employment laws, policies and employee matters, including separation and settlement agreements along with discrimination, harassment and retaliation matters. She has represented clients in discrimination cases involving age, race, gender, religion and national origin.