Utah Supreme Court "Repudiates" the Federal Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine

by Stoel Rives LLP

In an unapologetic rejection of a decades-old legal fiction hatched by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") and embraced by Utah Division of Occupational Safety and Health ("UOSH"), on January 31, 2014, the Utah Supreme Court repudiated the multi-employer worksite doctrine. Hughes General Contractors v. Utah Labor Commission, 2014 UT 3. The Court based its repudiation on the doctrine’s “incompatibility with the governing Utah statute.”

The so-called multi-employer worksite doctrine makes a general contractor responsible for the occupational safety of all workers on a worksite, including those who are not even the general contractor’s actual employees. In rejecting that doctrine, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the responsibility for ensuring occupational safety in Utah is limited to an employer’s actual employees.

Hughes was a general contractor overseeing a construction project involving multiple subcontractors, including a masonry subcontractor. UOSH invoked the multi-employer worksite doctrine and cited Hughes for improper erection of scaffolding in connection with the masonry subcontractor’s work, concluding that Hughes was responsible as a “controlling employer” under Section 34A-6-201 of the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Act (UOSH Act) given Hughes’ “general supervisory authority over the worksite.” Hughes challenged the legal viability of the doctrine before the Administrative Law Judge, who upheld the citation; and then the Labor Commission’s Appeals Board affirmed the ALJ’s decision. The Board based its decision on the notion that Section 34A-6-201 “mirrors its federal counterpart, which was interpreted [by the 10th Circuit] to endorse” the doctrine. Id., ¶5.

In reversing the Board, the Utah Supreme Court held that Section 34A-6-201 “is not a mirror-image of its federal counterpart, 29 U.S.C. § 654(a).” Id. ¶8. In focusing on the plain language of the Utah provision, the Court emphasized that it “imposes responsibilities for occupational safety on an ‘employer.’” Id., ¶10. In rejecting the Labor Commission’s interpretation of this provision “to extend broadly to anyone with supervisory control over a particular worksite,” the Court noted that the “text and structure of this provision are singularly focused on the employment relationship,” and that such relationship “focuses on the employer’s ‘right to control the employee’” rather than on any right a contractor may have to control “the premises.” Id., ¶¶14&15. The Court concluded that Hughes’ “general supervisory authority over the worksite,” absent any right to control the subcontractors’ workers, “did not render it an employer subject to sanctions for failure to comply with UOSHA.” Id., ¶17.


The Court acknowledged that the federal courts have generally upheld the doctrine as a matter of federal law, but distinguished it on two grounds. First, federal statutory duty to “comply with occupational safety and health standards is set forth in a separately sub-sectioned provision. See 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(2).” In contrast, the Utah provision is “unitary - setting forth the responsibility of ‘[e]ach employer’ to provide a place of employment free of recognized hazards . . . in a single, undifferentiated provision.” Hughes, 2014 UT 3, ¶22. The Court reasoned that “under federal law, it is more plausible to conclude that the duty to comply with OSHA standards runs to non-employers. We find that construction untenable under our statute for reasons noted above, which are reaffirmed by the unitary structure of the Utah provision.” Id., ¶23.  Second, the Court held that the federal cases on which the ALJ and Board relied were “based on a principle of administrative deference under Chevron, 467 U.S. 837,” and that the federal courts “have not rendered an independent assessment of the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 654(a). They have simply found the federal statute less than clear, and thus deferred to a federal agency regulation construing the statute to allow for the multi-employer worksite doctrine.” Id., ¶24. In sharp contrast, the Court held that “this approach is not a viable one under Utah law. On pure questions of law, we have not adopted a Chevron-like standard of administrative deference.” In fact, as the Court noted, “our case law has openly repudiated that approach.” Id., ¶25.


The Court expressly resigned itself to its limited role of determining the meaning of the statutory language, and acknowledged that it was “in no position to pick sides in the policy debate engaged in by the parties….” Id., ¶27.


Although this new decision may have some liberating impacts to many employers and general contractors in particular, it should be expected that UOSH’s inspection activities at construction sites will broaden to include subcontractors. This development may also prompt some legislative amendment efforts on the part of the Labor Commission.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Stoel Rives LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Stoel Rives LLP

Stoel Rives LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.