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Department of Justice Expands Worker Endangerment Initiative

On December 17, 2015, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memorandum to all 93 U.S. Attorneys urging federal prosecutors to work with the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resource Division (ENRD) to pursue worker-endangerment violations. The announcement culminated a year-long effort to consolidate authorities to pursue worker-safety criminal allegations within the ENRD. The government is encouraging prosecutors to consider Title 18 statutes (such as obstruction, false statements, witness tampering, and conspiracy) as well as environmental crimes when making charging decisions. The goal is to enhance penalties and increase deterrence for worker-safety-related crimes. The Assistant Attorney General for ENRD, John C. Cruden, has made clear that his division intends to “remove the profit from these crimes by vigorously prosecuting employers who break safety and environmental laws at the expense of American workers.”

To enhance coordination between the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), the departments also executed a memorandum of understanding.  The MOU provides for coordination of workplace-safety matters that could lead to criminal prosecution by the DOJ.  For example, the MOU establishes a referral procedure to discuss employers who may be targets for enhanced investigation or criminal referral to the DOJ. 

Recommendation

Employers may want to review their policies for incident investigations under OSHA’s process safety management standard and EPA’s risk-management program.  Employers could also consider conducting a privileged review of their compliance-and-ethics program.

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About this Author

Kevin D. Collins, Bracewell, Government Investigations Attorney, Chemicals Sector lawyer,
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Kevin is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of Texas. He is a trial lawyer and has experience trying cases to jury verdict in state and federal court.

He also assists companies responding to government investigations after major industrial accidents and chemical releases in the energy and chemical sectors. Kevin has experience responding to investigations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Pipeline and Hazardous...

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Robert Nichols, employer litigation attorney, bracewell law firm, lawyer harassment claims, wrongful discharge case, occupational safety issues
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Robert Nichols represents employers in litigation, administrative actions and arbitrations concerning discrimination and retaliation, harassment, wrongful discharge, occupational safety and health, union-management relations, wage and hour matters, and other concerns related to employment. Mr. Nichols has defended more than 200 employment-related lawsuits in federal and state court, represented employers in more than 300 federal and state agency employment discrimination investigations, and handled numerous Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cases, including seven OSHA fatality investigations.

Mr. Nichols provides day-to-day legal advice to employers with respect to all aspects of the employment relationship. Mr. Nichols isboard certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

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