Cal/OSHA Penalties Increase

Most California businesses don’t need the prospect of stiff Cal/OSHA penalties to maintain safe and healthful workplaces. Most make occupational health and safety an ongoing priority. Still, there are many businesses that deliberately disregard occupational safety and health standards, cut corners, and tolerate unsafe practices putting their employees at risk of serious illness, injury or even death. This year, California’s legislature is taking on businesses that violate workplace safety standards by approving hefty increases in Cal/OSHA penalty amounts.

Federal Background

Until last year, Cal/OSHA’s penalty structure was consistent with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. However, in 2016, federal OSHA announced civil penalty increases for violations of federal occupational safety and health standards. The initial federal penalty amounts represented the first round of “catch up” penalties required by federal legislation passed in 2015. The first round of “catch up” penalties, which had last been adjusted in 1990, increased penalty amounts by 78%. The federal penalties were effective on August 1, 2016.

The 2015 federal law also included the requirement that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) adjust OSHA penalties every year for inflation. The first adjustment for inflation went into effect on January 13, 2017. The DOL will announce the next adjustment in January 2018. Federal maximum penalties have increased as follows:

Federal OSHA 

Type of violation

Serious, Other-Than-Serious, Posting Requirements Willful or Repeated


1990-2015 $7,000 $70,000
2016 $12,471 $124,709
2017 $12,675 $126,749
2018 TBA TBA

Cal/OSHA Penalty Increases

When the federal OSHA “catch up” penalties went into effect, states operating OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health programs had six months to adopt a penalty structure as effective as federal OSHA’s. Many states failed to meet this deadline, California included.

Although California didn’t make the deadline, earlier this year California finally passed a law (SB 96) increasing Cal/OSHA penalties. The implementing regulations went into effect on Sept. 14, 2017. The state law only increased penalties to OSHA’s 2016 levels. Currently, Cal/OSHA’s maximum penalty for general or regulatory violations is $12,471. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations is $124,709. California’s penalties for serious violations were already higher than OSHA’s, so these amounts didn’t change. California’s minimum penalty for a serious violation remains $18,000, and the maximum remains $25,000.


Type of violation

General, Regulatory, Posting Requirements Willful or Repeated
2017 $12,471 $124,709
2018 TBA TBA

Annual Penalty Adjustment

Cal/OSHA’s penalty structure is still lags behind federal OSHA, but California law also requires penalty amounts to be adjusted for inflation every year. Cal/OSHA has informed us that its penalties will increase again in January, 2018, when federal OSHA makes its next penalty adjustment.


Cal/OSHA has informed us that the Cal/OSHA Job Safety and Health posting will be updated with 2017 penalty amounts in December. We expect the workplace posting to be revised again in January when penalty amounts are adjusted for inflation. CPC’s California All-On-One™ Labor Law Posters will be updated to reflect these changes, along with other California mandatory posting changes that are anticipated later this year.

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