Q: What is an employer’s affirmative defense relative to an OSHA charge and how does it work?
A: In simplified legal terms, an affirmative defense is the act of an accused party putting forth a set of alternative claims or facts. The purpose of the accused party doing this is to mitigate the claim against him, or at least the consequences of the claim, even if the facts of the claim are true. Following is an example of a fairly common scenario in which an affirmative defense is claimed by an employer. OSHA investigates an incident that resulted in an injury to an employee and finds the employer responsible. The agency subsequently issues a citation for violation of a certain rule. Most successful affirmative defenses have shown that the employer’s safety manual rule would have protected the employee if the rule had been followed; that the rule was communicated to the workforce via training; that supervisors and employees were trained to comply with the rule; that supervisors enforced the rule; and that a disciplinary program effectively remediated noncompliance. If the employer successfully puts forth that defense, he can claim the employee violated the rule outside of the control of the employer. The employer showed due diligence and cannot be held responsible for a condition over which he had no control, such as employee misconduct.