Crimes for Conduct Endangering Workers
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What are crimes directed at conduct endangering workers?
In some instances, a corporate official may be charged with a crime for conduct committed in furtherance of her job duties. Particularly, conduct by business officials that endanger workers may be criminal in nature.
- Note: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or equivalent state agencies may investigate businesses for violation of health and safety standards. If an agency uncovers potentially criminal conduct, it can turn the investigation over to state or federal authorities for investigation and potential prosecution.
- Example: Examples of such criminal actions include when a business official: commits an assault and battery of an employee or makes decisions that recklessly endanger or company workers. If a company official orders extremely dangerous process, such as handling dangerous chemicals, or fails to institute adequate safety precautions, she may face criminal liability if a worker is injured or killed.
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Discussion: If you have read the famous book by Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, you are aware of the harsh working conditions that workers in the United States faced at the turn of the 20th Century. Do you think that criminalizing decision making by corporate executives helped to curve these harsh employer practices? Do you think the criminal penalties against businesses are sufficient to deter these practices?
- Many would argue that the only way to hold businesses accountable for criminal conduct is to put criminal liability on decision makers. Others may argue that an executive should not be held responsible for the consequences of a business decision that is not intended to harm anyone. The water becomes a bit murky when an executive should understand the risks associated with a decision or course of action.
Practice Question: Earl is a movie director. He is known for the action sequences in his documentary films. He hires, Faith, a recent film graduate to work on his movie set. As part of a film, Earl wants to film a chase sequence on a railroad track. Earl mounts a camera on the bumper of a vehicle and instructs faith to maneuver it during the action scene. During the scene, Faith is bounced from the vehicle and severely injured. Has Earl committed a crime against faith.
- Earl could be charged with the crime of endangering another person. A person commits a disorderly persons offense if he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person. The crime of endangering another person generally requires, "A person commits a disorderly persons offense if he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person." E.g., NJ statute, 2C:24-7.1