The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion that should serve as a warning not only to employers, but to their corporate officers. The case against Altor, Inc., a New Jersey-based construction company, began in 2012 when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) directed Altor and its sole director and officer to pay a $412,000 penalty (Payment Order) to OSHA for several violations, including the failure to comply with fall protection standards. The company refused to pay, arguing that it did not possess sufficient assets. The Secretary of Labor filed a Petition for Civil Contempt against Altor and its President, Vasilios Saites. The court acknowledged that the company and Mr. Saites could defend against a contempt finding by showing that he and the company were unable to comply with the Payment Order. Beyond merely stating that they could not pay, the court required that they must show that they made good faith efforts to comply with the Order.
After considering all of the evidence, the court ultimately relied on Altor’s bank records, which reflected that the company ended each month during a two-year period after the violations with a positive bank balance. Thus, the court determined that Altor could have made “at least relatively modest” payments and emphasized that the company never attempted to negotiate a reduced sum or a payment plan.