A recent Washington State Court of Appeals decision makes clear to employers who wish to appeal a workplace-safety citation via mail (and, arguably, any agency decision requiring a postmark), that there is more to timeliness than the date of postmark and no room for mistakes. Make sure you weigh that mail and provide for proper postage!
In Waste Connections v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., the Department of Labor and Industries issued a workplace-safety citation, otherwise known as a Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act violation, and notice to Waste Connections for three regulatory violations. The citation stated Waste Connections had fifteen working days to appeal the citation. Waste Connections addressed its notice of appeal to the Department three days before the deadline but mistakenly failed to affix sufficient postage. Consequently, the notice of appeal was returned to Waste Connections after the fifteen-day deadline. The Department deemed the appeal untimely even though Waste Connections promptly resubmitted the notice by certified mail because it was postmarked and delivered to the Department after the deadline.
RCW 49.17.140(1) requires an employer wishing to appeal a workplace-safety violation to timely notify the director of the Department of Labor and Industries of the employer’s intent to appeal within fifteen working days from communication of the notice. Pursuant to WAC 296-900-17005(2) an employer is permitted to notify the director by mail, fax, electronically, or by personal delivery. The postmark date is considered the submission date of a mailed request.
Based on these code sections, Waste Connections argued before the court of appeals that it complied with the notice requirements because it postmarked its notice of appeal before the end of the fifteen-day deadline. Waste Connections also argued that even if it failed to strictly comply with the notice requirements, it substantially complied, and accordingly it should have been granted an extension for good cause.
The court of appeals rejected these arguments. The court interpreted the statute to contain an implied requirement that a mailed request have sufficient postage. The court’s conclusion was based on the definition of mail, which is to send. The court reasoned that one cannot send anything via mail without sufficient postage, and that holding otherwise would undermine the purpose of the notice requirement which is to ensure notice reaches the intended recipient within a specific time frame.
The court also found it did not have jurisdiction to hear an untimely appeal of work-place safety citations as RCW 49.17.140(1) clearly states late appeals become final orders that are unreviewable by any court or agency. Therefore, the court found it was without authority to even entertain Waste Connection’s argument as to an extension for good cause.
Considering this decision, it is crucial for any employer wishing to timely appeal a work-safety citation, and, arguably, any government agency that allows filing via mail, to make certain that the notice of appeal is sent prior to the appeal deadline and that sufficient postage is affixed to the notice of appeal. Consequently, it is advisable to fax, e-mail, or personally deliver a notice of appeal rather than mail since mistakes are bound to occur and are generally unforgiven.
If you have an issue involving a workplace citation, worker’s compensation, unemployment, or any other issue with agencies governing employers in Washington, please contact Issaquah Law Group. Our Issaquah Attorneys are well versed regarding appeals of administrative actions before the Department of Labor and Industries and the Employment Security Department.