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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can issue subpoenas to request necessary documents as part of an OSHA inspection. If a recipient fails to comply, the department may then move to enforce the subpoena in federal district court. Recently, a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts affirmed that recipients who oppose such investigative requests without substantial justification can face significant and costly consequences.
On Oct. 21, 2021, the court ordered UHS of Fuller Inc. and UHS of Delaware Inc. to pay the department $30,515.63 in attorneys’ fees after they failed to comply with an OSHA-issued subpoena for documents. OSHA issued the subpoena as part of a 2019 workplace violence inspection at an Attleboro behavioral health facility the companies operated. Among other things, the subpoena requested video footage of workplace violence incidents involving employees at the facility. After failing to comply, the department’s regional office of the solicitor petitioned the court to enforce the subpoena for the requested video.
The court found that the companies’ opposition was not “substantially justified” and ordered them to comply with the subpoena, and to pay the department’s attorneys’ fees incurred responding to their arguments.
“The court made clear that there can be significant consequences for a recipient that opposes OSHA subpoena compliance without substantial justification. The law makes a clear distinction between good faith arguments and those that lack merit,” said Maia Fisher, OSHA regional solicitor of labor. “If a recipient chooses to engage in the latter, the recipient should expect to be held accountable.”
Dan Hounsell is senior editor, facility group.