PORTLAND, Ore — Dec. 3 marked the end of a statewide two-week freeze in Oregon in an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infection rates. Up until then, many businesses like fitness centers, movie theaters, museums were closed. Grocery stores, retail stores, restaurants, and bars were open but limited to fewer people and take-out only.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, and strict protocol in place for businesses that remain open and running, KGW set out to VERIFY: How many Oregon businesses have been fined for not following COVID-19 protocol?
To find out more we spoke to Aaron Corvin and Mark Peterson at the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA). As of Nov. 9, OSHA had issued 50 citations to employers for violating requirements to protect workers from COVID-19.
Penalties range from $100-$2,000 for non-willful violations. But penalties for willful violations can range anywhere from $8,900-$15,000.
“A serious violation that is not a willful violation carries a minimum penalty of $100 and a maximum of $12,675," Corvin said. "A willful violation carries a minimum penalty of $8,900 and a maximum of $126,749.”
Corvin explained that a serious violation exists when the violation results in or has the potential to cause serious physical harm or death. A willful violation exists when an employer has demonstrated either an intentional or purposeful disregard for the requirements of the Oregon Safe Employment Act or a plain indifference to employee safety and health.
“The higher fines you see in some cases involve situations where we cited employers for willful violations of COVID-related restrictions," Corvin said. "These are situations where we found employers choosing to disregard restrictions – sometimes even after being warned and after being clearly informed of the requirements.”
The process for assigning penalties, said Corvin, is a complicated one that varies depending on the size of the employer in question, the risk and the probability of someone getting sick or hurt while on the job. A table provided by OSHA breaking down the criteria for penalties can be found here.
Four citations were recently listed against Capital Racquet Sports Inc. (Courthouse Club Fitness) based in Salem, that totaled $90,000. Courthouse Club Fitness was fined for willingly keeping four Salem area locations open during Oregon’s statewide COVID-19 freeze, which began Nov. 18. Each inspection of the four locations resulted in a $17,500 “willful penalty” and a $5,000 fine for violating “red warning notices” that were posted at each location the week before the business was fined.
Another larger COVID-19 fine was issued to McClure & Sons Inc, a commercial construction company in Washington County which paid an initial penalty of $15,000 in July of this year. On Sept. 3, a large fine of $13,900 was issued to a restaurant in Salem called Cafe 22 West which, “willfully failed to implement health hazard controls- such as face coverings and physical distancing- and violated Red Warning Notice.”
KGW’s VERIFY team reached out to the aforementioned businesses for added insight on the OSHA process, but they haven’t gotten back to KGW with a comment.
Businesses and employers can play their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace by following CDC guidelines as well as mandates made by the OSHA. Businesses must now account for the virus and disease transmission and face financial penalties if they fail to do so.