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State fines Grimmway $5,850 over COVID-19 reporting allegations

Ag Theft

A harvester is shown picking carrots in a Grimmway Farms field.

Local carrots grower Grimmway Farms faces $5,850 in state fines over accusations it failed to promptly report an employee's illness related to COVID-19.

Late last month the California Department of Industrial Relations levied three penalties against Grimmway, the most serious of which is a $5,000 fine accusing the company of failing to immediately inform Cal-OSHA an employee in the company's shipping department suffered a serious illness related to COVID-19 on or about Aug. 12.

State rules give companies eight hours to report such illnesses after it becomes aware of them. Although it acknowledges employers might not be able to file the required notice that quickly, illness reports must be reported to the division no longer than 24 hours after the incident.

The department also accused Grimmway of neglecting to update its log of work-related injuries to reflect that one of its employees was away from work with a COVID-19 illness for two weeks starting July 22. That accusation came with a $425 fine.

The other $425 fine alleges Grimmway did not document safety and health training for an employee on what was then the new hazard of COVID-19.

Company spokeswoman Dana Brennan said Tuesday the company would not comment on "pending legal matters." She said later by email all three state allegations relate to a single incident.

Last summer state officials carried out a multi-agency investigation focused on whether California's ag-related businesses were doing enough to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19.

In December the Department of Industrial Relations issued fines totaling $77,500 against Primex Farms LLC, owner of a Wasco nut processing plant, and three local labor contractors after an investigation concluded they failed to adequately protect employees from COVID-19 last spring and summer. It said the companies lacked a plan for protecting workers from the pandemic or failed to properly train employees on COVID-19 safety measures, or both.

Grimmway, one of the nation's biggest carrot growers, reached an agreement in November to be acquired by Teays River Investments LLC, an assets-management firm founded in 2009 and headquartered in Zionsville, Ind.