Last week, a Texas federal judge handed the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) a victory by refusing to grant an injunction that sought to delay the implementation of the Agency’s rule regarding workplace injuries and illnesses. The new rule, entitled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illness,” requires most employers to submit workplace injury and illness information electronically. This information will then be shared on a publically accessible website. The rule also incorporates OSHA’s existing statutory prohibition of retaliation against an employee who reports workplace injuries and illnesses and requires employers to inform employees of their right to report without fear of retaliation, among other provisions.
Several business groups filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division on July 8, seeking to block the new rule. In particular, the groups were concerned with the rule’s potential impact on their ability to conduct drug testing and to implement safety incentive programs.
The court found that the business groups’ arguments to delay the rule were based “almost entirely on unsupported beliefs, unfounded fear, and speculation.” The court further concluded that the rule does not block “per se” the implementation of post-accident drug tests or safety incentive programs and noted that it was “not entirely clear” that any of the programs described by the groups would actually be blocked by the new rule. Finally, the court noted that the groups were already covered by a prohibition against retaliation, as they conceded.
It appears certain that the incoming Trump administration will take a fresh look at the rule’s requirements. In the interim, however, employers will be obligated to comply with the drug testing, safety incentive program and anti-retaliation aspects of rule starting on December 1, 2016 and then be prepared to comply with the remaining reporting obligations, which take effect 30 days later on January 1, 2017.