Eleventh Circuit: OSHA Must Have Probable Cause to Obtain an Inspection Warrant

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October 9, 2018

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In United States v. Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc., the Eleventh Circuit reviewed an inspection warrant sought by OSHA after a poultry facility declined a full-site inspection. OSHA was present at the facility following an employee injury, and was permitted to inspect the area related to the accident. When the employer declined to allow OSHA to expand its search to the full facility, it sought to obtain an inspection warrant.

To obtain an inspection warrant, OSHA must demonstrate probable cause, which “may consist of either (1) a showing of specific evidence of an existing violation, or (2) a showing that ‘reasonable legislative or administrative standards for conducting an … inspection are satisfied with respect to a particular [establishment].’” OSHA’s required probable cause is different than what is required in a criminal matter. The court noted “the evidence of a specific violation required to establish administrative probable cause … must at least show that the proposed inspection is based upon a reasonable belief that a violation has been or is being committed and not upon a desire to harass the target of the inspection.”

There, OSHA relied on past employer OSHA logs as evidence that a full-scale inspection was warranted. However, the court stated that while OSHA logs may indicate “hazards”, it does not necessarily show “violations”, which is what is required in the standard of proof. Moreover, the content in this employer’s logs did not constitute enough evidence to indicate OSHA violations, and OSHA’s investigation warrant was quashed. However, the court noted that there may be circumstances where the content of an employer’s OSHA logs, a specific violation plus historical violations, or a specific complaint that permeates the workplace may be sufficient evidence of violations justifying issuing an inspection warrant.

Action Items

  1. Review OSHA inspection procedures with legal counsel.
  2. Have OSHA logs reviewed for compliance and exposure.
  3. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2018 ManagEase

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