The New Mexico Environment Department announced this week O’Reilly’s Auto Parts in Lovington has been fined $242,827.20 for violations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NMED claims the store allowed employees to work while COVID-19 symptomatic. One of those employees died due to the virus, according to the release.
In July the News-Sun wrote an article following the death of Veronica Juarez, a 45-year-old woman of Lovington who worked at O’Reilly’s, according to her family. She was the first life COVID-19 took in Lea County. The news release by the NMED does not name Juarez as the woman who passed.
The release also claims the Lovington store, located at 525 W. Ave. D, did not follow proper cleaning and disinfection protocol.
“This is a violation of state law, public health orders and COVID-Safe Practices, as well as O’Reilly’s own internal policies,” the release states.
NMED Public Information Officer Maddy Hayden told the News-Sun the fines are categorized as willful-serious and are individually more than $121,000 each.
“You’ll notice there is different categories of citations,” Hayden said. “These are categorized as willful-serious. That is the highest level of workplace safety violations.”
Hayden explained the conditions of the store were discovered by the New Mexico Department of Health through contract tracing.
“Providing employees with a false sense of protection from COVID-19 by putting policies in place to comply with state law and then not following them is unconscionable. Had O’Reilly management complied with corporate policies, it’s possible this tragic situation could have been avoided,” said NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney states in the release. “Every employee deserves to come home from work safe and healthy, and fortunately many New Mexico businesses are doing all they can to protect their workers.”
O’Reilly Auto Parts VP of Reporting and Planning Mark Merz, said the franchise is taking the allegations seriously but have not seen the investigation report for the citation.
“We do not agree with the conclusions, or proposed fines, described in the citations,” Merz said. “There is a formal process for contesting these matters and at this time we intend to follow that process.”
The release states the company has 15 days to either pay the fines or contest the citations before the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Commission.
Merz also explained the company takes health and safety very seriously and has protocols in place to ensure state mandates are followed.
“We continue to monitor these channels for new information and updates and continue to modify our protective measures based on the most up-to-date guidance and best practices,” Merz said.
This is O’Reilly’s second citation issued in New Mexico. A Santa Fe store was cited for allegedly not requiring employees to wear masks. Merz explained this was an incident from July 4.
“O’Reilly strongly objected to these allegations; however, in lieu of a costly legal process,” Merz said, “O’Reilly made the decision to settle, as fully described in the public settlement agreement.”