On March 29, 2024, the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) released a final rule amending the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSH Act”), clarifying who can serve as an employee representative to accompany the OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (“CSHO”) during physical workplace inspections.  The final rule broadens employees’ rights to allow outside representatives – including labor union representatives – to join them during safety inspections.  The final rule is set to take effect May 31, 2024.

Background

The OSH Act requires that both employer and employee representatives have the opportunity to accompany the CSHO during the physical inspection of a workplace – referred to as a “walkaround rule.” 

Under the current rule, the OSH Act provided that the employee representative be limited to “employee(s) of the employer,” but there was also an exception for a “third party who is not an employee of the employer” authorized by judgment of the CSHO to be “reasonably necessary to the conduct of an effective and thorough physical inspection of the workplace.” The OSH Act listed a safety engineer and an industrial hygienist as two non-exhaustive examples of authorized third-party employee representatives.

While OSHA interpreted the above-language to permit third-parties, including labor union representatives, to join employees during the inspections, a federal district court in 2017 issued a holding interpreting the language in a narrow fashion.  A Texas federal judge found that only employees of the employer can participate in these inspections. 

OSHA Final Rule

The final rule amends the OSH Act to state that, “[t]he representative(s) authorized by employees may be an employee of the employer or a third party.”

The new language clarifies that employees are permitted to bring in outside representatives to accompany OSHA inspectors during the physical inspection of the workplace. The final rule does not change the CSHO’s authority to determine whether good cause has been shown why a third-party representative is “reasonably necessary to the conduct of an effective and thorough physical inspection of the workplace.” However, it does expand authorized third parties to include anyone with “relevant knowledge, skills, or experience with hazards or conditions in the workplace or similar workplaces, or language or communication skills” – rather than only those with skills comparable to a safety engineer or industrial hygienist. OSHA concluded that “these clarifications aid OSHA’s workplace inspections by better enabling employees to select representative(s) of their choice,” thus “…ensuring OSHA obtains the necessary information about worksite conditions and hazards.”

Takeaways

It bears watching whether the final rule will be challenged in federal court, as many other recent agency rule pronouncements – particularly by the National Labor Relations Board (here) – have been challenged.  If the rule survives challenge (or if it is not challenged at all), then employers should be aware of the upcoming change in the law in less than 60 days, which will broaden employees’ rights during safety inspection reviews, and which may provide union access rights to the workplace that may not have previously been available under labor law or applicable collective bargaining agreements. 

We will continue following this issue closely. 

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Photo of Joshua Fox Joshua Fox

Joshua S. Fox is a senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Sports, Labor-Management Relations, Class and Collective Actions and Wage and Hour Groups.

As a member of the Sports Law Group, Josh has represented several…

Joshua S. Fox is a senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Sports, Labor-Management Relations, Class and Collective Actions and Wage and Hour Groups.

As a member of the Sports Law Group, Josh has represented several Major League Baseball Clubs in all aspects of the salary arbitration process, including the Miami Marlins, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. In particular, Josh successfully represented the Miami Marlins in their case against All-Star Catcher J.T. Realmuto, which was a significant club victory in salary arbitration. Josh also represents Major League Baseball and its clubs in ongoing litigation brought by current and former minor league players who allege minimum wage and overtime violations. Josh participated on the team that successfully defended Major League Baseball in a wage-and-hour lawsuit brought by a former volunteer for the 2013 All-Star FanFest, who alleged minimum wage violations under federal and state law. The lawsuit was dismissed by the federal district court, and was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Josh also has extensive experience representing professional sports leagues and teams in grievance arbitration proceedings, including playing a vital role in all aspects of the grievance challenging the suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs of then-New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Josh also has counseled NHL Clubs and served on the trial teams for grievances alleging violations of the collective bargaining agreement, including cases involving use of performance-enhancing substances, domestic violence issues, and supplementary discipline for on-ice conduct. He has played a key role in representing professional sports leagues in all aspects of their collective bargaining negotiations with players and officials, including the Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, the National Football League, Major League Soccer, the Professional Referee Organization, and the National Basketball Association,.

In addition, Josh has extensive experience representing clients in the performing arts industry, including the New York City Ballet, New York City Opera, Big Apple Circus, among many others, in collective bargaining negotiations with performers and musicians, the administration of their collective bargaining agreements, and in grievance arbitrations.

Josh also represents a diverse range of clients, including real estate developers and contractors, pipe line contractors, hospitals, hotels, manufacturers and public employers, in collective bargaining, counseling on general employment matters and proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, New York State Public Employment Relations Board and arbitrators.

Josh has also recently served as an adjunct professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations for the past two years, teaching a course regarding Major League Baseball salary arbitration.

Prior to joining Proskauer, Josh worked for a year and a half at the National Hockey League, where he was involved in all labor and employment matters, including preparations for collective bargaining, grievance arbitration, contract drafting and reviewing and employment counseling. Josh also interned in the labor relations department of Major League Baseball and at Region 2 of the National Labor Relations Board. He was a member of the Brooklyn Law Review and the Appellate Moot Court Honor Society and served as president of the Brooklyn Entertainment and Sports Law Society.

Photo of Mark Theodore Mark Theodore

Mark Theodore is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department. He has devoted his practice almost exclusively to representing management in all aspects of traditional labor law matters throughout the U.S. He is Co-Chair of Proskauer’s Labor-Management and Collective Bargaining Practice…

Mark Theodore is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department. He has devoted his practice almost exclusively to representing management in all aspects of traditional labor law matters throughout the U.S. He is Co-Chair of Proskauer’s Labor-Management and Collective Bargaining Practice Group.

Some recent highlights of his career include:

  • Successfully defended client against allegations that it had terminated a union supporter and isolated another. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 365 NLRB No. 15 (2017).
  • Successfully appealed NLRB findings that certain of client’s written policies violated the National Labor Relations Actions Act.  T-Mobile USA, Inc., 363 NLRB No. 171 (2016), enf’d in part, rev’d in part 865 F.3d 265 (5th Cir. 2017).
  • Represented major utility in NLRB proceedings related to organizing of planners.  Secured utility-wide bargaining unit. Bargained on behalf of grocery chain.  After negotiations reached an impasse, guided the company through lawful implementation of five year collective bargaining agreement.
  • Coordinated employer response in numerous strike situations including a work stoppage across 14 western states of the client’s operations.

Mark has extensive experience representing employers in all matters before the NLRB, including representation petitions, jurisdictional disputes and the handling of unfair labor practice charges from the date they are filed through trial and appeal. Mark has acted as lead negotiator for dozens of major companies in a variety of industries, including national, multi-unit, multi-location, multi-employer and multi-union bargaining. Mark has handled lockout and strike situations, coordinating the clients efforts.

In addition, Mark has handled hundreds of arbitrations involving virtually every area of dispute, including contract interest arbitration, contract interpretation, just cause termination/discipline, benefits, pay rates, and hours of work.

Photo of Laura Fant Laura Fant

Laura Fant is a special employment law counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-administrative leader of the Counseling, Training & Pay Equity Practice Group. Her practice is dedicated to providing clients with practical solutions to common (and uncommon) employment concerns…

Laura Fant is a special employment law counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-administrative leader of the Counseling, Training & Pay Equity Practice Group. Her practice is dedicated to providing clients with practical solutions to common (and uncommon) employment concerns, with a focus on legal compliance, risk management and mitigation strategies, and workplace culture considerations.

Laura regularly counsels clients across numerous industries on a wide variety of employment matters involving recruitment and hiring, employee leave and reasonable accommodation issues, performance management, and termination of employment . She also advises on preparing, implementing and enforcing employment and separation agreements, employee handbooks and company policies, as well as provides training on topics including discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Laura is a frequent contributor to Proskauer’s Law and the Workplace blog and The Proskauer Brief podcast.

Photo of Chad Thornton Chad Thornton

Chad Thornton is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Counseling Group.