A judge has ruled that Wal-Mart should pay a $7,000 fine in connection with the trampling death of one of its employees. But this case may not be over yet.
Wal-Mart had appealed the OSHA fine, questioning the agency’s use of its General Duty Clause (GDC) to issue the citation.
The GDC says employers have a general duty to provide a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards.” OSHA uses the GDC to issue fines when no federal safety regulation applies. OSHA doesn’t have a regulation regarding crowd control in retail stores.
Wal-Mart said there was no previous federal government or retail industry guidance on how to prevent the trampling death.
After the employee’s death in its Valley Stream, NY, store, Wal-Mart implemented crowd control measures.
Following an opinion from an administrative law judge, a company has 20 days to appeal to the next level: a hearing before the entire Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
A company spokesman told Bloomberg news Wal-Mart will probably appeal the decision.
A lot of resources have been spent on both sides of this case.
Last summer, The New York Times reported that Wal-Mart had spent $2 million fighting the $7,000 fine. The same article noted that OSHA had poured 4,725 hours of work by federal legal staffers into the case. At $125/hour, the rate at which OSHA can be ordered to reimburse companies when they win the appeal of a fine, OSHA has spent almost $600,000 on the case.
The stakes are high for both sides. An upheld fine means Wal-Mart, and any other retailer across the nation, could be cited by OSHA in the future for injuries to employees in crowd conditions.
A ruling in Wal-Mart’s favor could restrict OSHA’s use of the GDC.
Is it time for Wal-Mart to just pay the fine? Or should it continue to fight, no matter what the cost? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.