Oregon has levied a $126,749 fine on a Salem gym that has repeatedly refused to shut down in compliance with coronavirus restrictions, the largest fine that the state has issued for coronavirus workplace violations thus far.
Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (Oregon OSHA) announced Tuesday that it had issued the fine to Capitol Racquet Sports for willfully refusing to comply with state health orders at one of its Courthouse Club Fitness locations in Salem.
Courthouse Club did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The gym will have 30 days to decide whether to appeal the fine. It appealed prior sanctions.
Gyms in counties deemed “extreme risk” for COVID-19 spread have not been allowed to conduct indoor operations since late November under Gov. Kate Brown’s new framework for COVID-19 restrictions. The new regulations came after Brown mandated that gyms shut down entirely for two weeks in early November in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Oregon OSHA issued Courthouse Club Fitness four penalties totaling $90,000 in November for continuing to operate its facilities during Brown’s two-week freeze. The state issued the hefty fines after the gym continued operating, even after Oregon OSHA posted Red Warning Notices that require businesses to cease all actions that violate public safety rules. The state issued citations at four Courthouse Club facilities and the company appealed all of them.
Oregon OSHA conducted another inspection at one of those same four facilities on Dec. 9 in response to multiple complaints and once again found Courthouse Club Fitness to be willfully disregarding public health orders and state notices to close the facility. That prompted the agency to issue the gym its maximum allowable fine.
“We understand that this employer is attempting to do a number of things to keep employees safe without shutting down, but that does not allow them to substitute their judgment for that of the public health authorities,” Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood said in a statement.
It is unclear whether the state can or will compel the gym to shut down.
Aaron Corvin, a spokesman for Oregon OSHA, said that if the gym continues operating that it could faces even bigger fines, which he said the agency sees as an effective deterrent.
“If they want to challenge it, then that’s what the appeal process is there for,” Corvin said. “As evidenced by the citations we’ve issued to date, we believe they are valid citations and that we will prevail. And continued non-compliance can be very expensive, with fines going up substantially.”
While a handful of vocal objectors have made headlines for refusing to follow the state’s public health orders, the vast majority of businesses appear to be complying with Oregon’s restrictions and closure orders.
During the pandemic, Oregon OSHA has also rarely issued fines and citations to businesses not in compliance with coronavirus restrictions, focusing instead on education.
Since the start of the pandemic, Oregon OSHA has issued 12 citations to employers for deliberately disregarding COVID-19 health restrictions. In eight of those cases, the employers continued to disregard those restrictions even after receiving Red Warning Notices.
“It is our expectation that employers follow well-founded health regulations that are directly intended to protect workers from a genuine hazard,” Wood said. “And while we have been able to use engagement and education to resolve most COVID-19 complaints involving employers, we will also continue to bring our enforcement tools to bear as needed.”