NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Employers' "Criminal" Actions

February 26, 1997

State prosecutors are increasingly demanding stiff fines and jail time for businesses and managers at companies where on-the-job accidents occur, observers report. Calling their conduct everything from assault and battery to reckless homicide, prosecutors in at least 14 states have sought hard time for employers they claim ignored safety warnings.

  • Nationwide, approximately 17 workers die on the job each day.
  • States have jailed close to a dozen employers in the 1990s -- with one plant owner being sentenced to nearly 20 years.
  • In Massachusetts, owners of two metal-processing companies were hauled into court -- to sit with accused rapists and drug dealers -- charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon: lead dust in one case, hazardous solvents in the other.
  • Defense attorneys say prosecutors are trying to criminalize what are no more than accidents.

Under most state manslaughter or negligent-homicide laws, prosecutors don't have to prove that employers intended to kill their workers -- only that their recklessness or negligence caused a death. In Maine and California, new laws have been passed providing specifically for criminal charges against employers who endanger employees.

Source: Ann Davis, "Treating On-the-Job Injuries as True Crimes," Wall Street Journal, February 26, 1997.


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