NEW YORK– Attorney General Letitia James today joined a coalition of Attorneys General from across the U.S. in suing to stop the Trump Administration from implementing a new rule that would weaken employers’ public reporting obligations of workplace injuries and illnesses. Filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit challenges an “illegal and unjustified” attempt by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to roll back requirements it issued in 2016 for the electronic reporting of workplace injury and illness information.
In 2016, OSHA touted the electronic reporting requirements as vital because they would help OSHA and states better target workplace safety enforcement programs, encourage employers to abate hazards before they resulted in injury or illness, empower workers to identify risks and demand improvements, and provide information to researchers who work on occupational safety and health.
Today’s lawsuit highlights that, just three years later, OSHA pulled an “about face” and disowned its prior commitment to transparency.
“By making public reports of workplace injuries and illnesses harder to access, the Trump Administration is jeopardizing the health, safety, and wellness of our workers,” said Attorney General Letitia James “Simply put: we cannot properly tackle workplace safety issues if we do not know about them. Every worker deserves a safe work environment and my office will continue to fight to ensure that no New Yorker is put in harm’s way.”
Today’s multi-state lawsuit is led by New Jersey, and names U.S. Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as defendants, along with the Department of Labor and Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt.
The suit notes that the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires an agency to “provide a reasoned explanation” for its new rules. Although OSHA now claims that the workplace safety information is not useful and that the electronic reporting might instead compromise worker privacy, the complaint alleges that OSHA has not “come close to justifying its views that the reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses had few benefits to states, workers and researchers, or that it puts workers’ privacy at risk.”
Because it lacks any valid rationale, the lawsuit argues, the new OSHA rule fails to meet APA criteria, has no legal basis and should be vacated by the court. The lawsuit also asks the court to order that “all aspects” of the original OSHA reporting rule promulgated in 2016 be implemented.
The 2016 rule was devised with input from private businesses, industry groups, labor unions, academics, state agencies, researchers, private citizens and others. It required all large employers – those with 250 or more employees — to submit to OSHA information from three different workplace injury and illness tracking forms that employers are required to maintain anyway.
At the time, OSHA took certain steps to reconcile its new reporting requirement with the need to protect privacy. For example, it elected not to collect data from certain fields on the reporting forms — such as employee names and the names of treating physicians — because collecting and publishing such data could create a privacy risk.
Today’s lawsuit notes that the Administration now dismisses “out of hand” the privacy protections OSHA devised and recommended in 2016, and is mounting a host of other “inconsistent” and “illogical” arguments to support its effort to ease the reporting obligation of large employers.