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U.S. to increase prosecutions for workplace safety violations

On Dec. 17, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor issued a memorandum announcing the government's intention to more vigorously and cohesively prosecute workplace safety crimes in Florida and nationwide. The effort is expected to increase investigations into safety violations by employers, particularly when worker fatalities are involved.

According to the memorandum, the DOJ Environmental and Natural Resource Division's Environmental Crime Section will now oversee violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Coordination between the DOJ and DOL will also be increased.

The government issued a letter requesting that all federal prosecutors coordinate with the Environmental Crime Section to more vigorously prosecute employers over workplace safety violations. Those violations are typically misdemeanors, but prosecutors are being urged to consider more serious felony charges, such as conspiracy, false statement, witness tampering, obstruction of justice and environmental and endangerment crimes, whenever possible. Such charges could lead to steep fines and prison sentences of up to 20 years.

According to the DOJ, many employers are willing to endanger worker safety and damage the environment in order to maximize profits. The government hopes that harsher penalties will increase employer compliance with worker safety and environmental regulations.

Individuals facing misdemeanor or felony charges for workplace safety violations may help their situation by retaining a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Legal counsel might be able to carefully scrutinize the case for inaccuracies and inconsistencies that could be used in the defendant's favor. However, if a case against a defendant is strong, it might be possible to negotiate for a plea deal in exchange for the defendant admitting guilt.

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