FLORENCE, Ore. — A pair of restaurants in the coastal city of Florence face staggering fines from Oregon OSHA for "willful" violations of the state's coronavirus guidelines while Lane County was under "Extreme Risk" restrictions.
The Little Brown Hen Cafe faces a fine of $17,800. OSHA sent inspectors to the location after multiple complaints that the restaurant was continuing to allow indoor dining beginning around the end of December.
When inspectors visited the restaurant on January 4, OSHA said that they were met by a group of people standing outside the entrance, "one of whom carried a firearm." The inspectors were threatened and told to leave.
"The officers politely left. As the officers walked to their cars, the people outside the entrance followed them," OSHA said. "The people shouted at the officers as the officers left the parking lot."
OSHA administrator Michael Wood hit the restaurant with a $17,800 penalty — twice the minimum for a willful violation — as a deterrent for employers who "insist on disregarding public health measures," putting employees at risk and giving the employer an advantage over compliant businesses.
“Most employers are choosing to do the right thing,” Wood said, “even as they face very real economic hardships. As for those relatively few employers who are working against our shared project to defeat this disease, we will continue our enforcement work in the interest of accountability.”
Around the same time as the Little Brown Hen investigation, OSHA received complaints about The Firehouse Restaurant. Inspectors conducted interviews over the phone because of social media posts showing the "potential for armed people to block access to the business."
"Moreover, the investigation showed that some extremist groups were encouraging people to engage in violence against Oregon OSHA compliance officers if they visited the site," the agency said.
Wood also imposed a $17,800 fine on The Firehouse for the apparent willful violation, but added two smaller penalties because the owners did not develop an infection control plan or COVID-19 risk assessment — bringing the total fine to $18,150.
"The inspection of The Firehouse Restaurant found the business committing the violations on or about Dec. 26 and continuing to do so afterward. The inspection included an interview with Kylie McKenzie, manager of the restaurant," OSHA said. "McKenzie said she originally closed the business to the public, but later decided to re-open it, even though she was aware the decision went against measures to prevent the spread of the disease in an extreme-risk county."
Employers have 30 days to appeal the citations from OSHA.