What Does Willful Violation Mean?
A willful violation occurs when an employer is aware of a health and safety violation on their worksite but does not take steps to remedy the problem.
Willful violations are determined by OSHA as a result of safety inspections. They are considered the most severe violations and, as such, carry hefty penalties.
An employer committing a willful violation can face criminal charges if that violation results in a fatality.
Safeopedia Explains Willful Violation
When an OSHA inspection identifies workplace conditions that don't meet regulatory requirements, the requirements and penalties imposed on the employer will depend on how the inspector classifies the violation.
All OSHA violations fall under one of the following six categories, in order from least to most serious:
- De Minimis Violation: A health and safety violation that has virtually no chance of resulting in harm or injury
- Other-Than-Serious Violation: A violation that could not by itself result in an injury but is nevertheless a failure to protect workers from harm (failing to post safety information, for example)
- Serious Violation: A violation that carries a high risk of illness or injury
- Willful Violation: Issued when an employer is aware that they are violating a safety regulation and has not taken steps to correct it
- Repeated Violation: Issued when an employer violates the same regulation on more than one occasion over a three year span
- Failure to Abate Prior Violation: Failing to rectify a safety violation by the date specific by the inspector
The 3 Types of Willful Violations
According to OSHA, a willful violation occurs when "the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”
From that brief sentence, we can see that there are three main types of willful violations:
- Intentional disregard, where an employer refuses to follow proper protocols
- Plain indifference, where an employer shows lack of concern for the health and safety of employees (e.g. poor management, lack of proper communication, insufficient on-site supervision)
- Criminal willful violation, where an employer's failure to comply with safety regulations result in the death of an employee
Penalty for Willful Violation
OSHA does not issue penalties for de minimis violations, although they will notify employers that they are in technical violation of a safety regulation. Monetary penalties are issued for all other types of safety violation, however.
If an employer is found to have committed an other-than-serious or serious violation, the penalty can be up to $15,625 for each violation.
In the case of willful violations, the maximum penalty increases tenfold. An employer can be fined as much as $156,259 per willful violation.
Should an employer fail to remedy a willful violation by the date specified by the OSHA inspector, they can then be fined an additional $15,625 each day until the unsafe conditions have been corrected.
For less severe infractions, however, the penalty can be considerably lower. The minimum fine issued for a willful violation is currently $11,162.
Note that these amounts apply for 2023 only and may be revised in subsequent years in response to economic inflation.