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.