The state Department of Labor & Industries has issued a $150,000 fine to a Yakima Valley fruit grower and processor for violating COVID-19 workplace requirements, the agency said Wednesday in a news release.
L&I said it issued two citations to Cowiche-based Evans Fruit Co. for what it describes as “two willful and serious violations” of workplace COVID-19 mask and social distancing requirements. The agency contends that Evans Fruit’s violations were willful because it knew employees were required to wear masks but did not enforce the policy and was serious due to the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 exposure.
Evans Fruit Co. had already been cited once previously last summer and was issued a $6,600 fine. The citation came after an L&I inspection of several locations that showed employees were not wearing face masks, having temperatures checked or social distancing.
In October, the agency opened a new inspection on the company after receiving an anonymous complaint about several safety and health issues, including a lack of social distancing. During a visit to the company, an L&I inspector found workers who were not social distancing or didn’t have physical barriers between them.
The inspector also found several employees in the warehouse and office who weren’t wearing masks and was told by a safety manager that he did not require workers to wear a mask.
The inspection prompted L&I to issue an Order and Notice of Immediate Restraint requiring immediate COVID-19 safety and health rule compliance the following day. The company came into compliance within a half-hour of receiving the notice.
Determining the fine for the company took several additional months, as the agency has been working on determining fines for hundreds of violations. L&I said in 2020, it inspected 422 agricultural businesses and found 517 violations, including 204 deemed serious. COVID-19 protocol violations made up 60% of violations.
Fines are based on several factors, including the company’s size, whether the company is a repeat offender and whether the violations were serious, which generates a penalty that is 10 times larger.
“The safety and the health of the employees is the most important,” said L&I spokeswoman Dina Lorraine. “We do have a process for determining the fine.”
Evans Fruit has 15 working days to appeal the violations and the $156,000 penalty. The company had appealed the two previous citations.
The Yakima Herald-Republic has reached out to Evans Fruit Co. for comment.
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