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California farmworkers file lawsuit over dangerous work conditions

Our Los Angeles employment law blog has mainly covered topics regarding harassment, discrimination and wage and hour violations in the workplace. But California employers are also responsible for keeping their workers safe from common hazards in the workplace.

When employers violate safety regulations, employees could become injured or ill as a result of an on-the-job accident or poor work conditions. In these situations, workers may be eligible to obtain workers' compensation benefits. Workers may also even consider taking legal action against their employers in order to hold negligent employers accountable for endangering workers.

Farmworkers in California recently filed a lawsuit against the state safety division, issuing allegations that their employee rights are being violated by employers throughout the region. The complaints are linked to employers' consistent refusal to abide by heat regulations, which has resulted in numerous work-related illnesses and deaths.

The lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of the United Farm Workers of America, and its documents allege that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health failed to address concerns that were submitted by workers. Those complaints were related to heat violations. The suit claims that the safety organization did not perform appropriate inspections connected to the claims, and employers who violated safety rules and regulations were issued only minimal fines.

Since 2005, California has seen at least 14 farmworkers die because of heat-related illnesses. The state was the first in the nation to require resting places, shady spots and water for its agriculture workers. More than 400,000 people work in the agriculture industry in California.

Egregious violations observed by UFW affiliates have been listed in the lawsuit. Some of these include the identification of 25 farmworkers who were provided with only a small umbrella for shade during 90-degree weather. Others did not get to rest in any shade. It is not clear how much compensation is being sought in connection with the lawsuit.

Source: Huffington Post, "Farm workers sue California regulators over heat violations," Gosia Wozniacka, Oct. 18, 2012

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