In a recent news release, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicated a company would be required to pay more than $332,000 in back wages and damages to a worker who was improperly terminated from his job. The employee had been terminated because he had reported a work-related injury. Termination in retaliation for reporting injuries or unsafe working conditions is illegal under federal law.
Those who get hurt at work or who observe unsafe conditions should report their injuries or the hazards so they can get workers' compensation benefits or so hazards can be corrected. Contacting OSHA is also advisable if employers do not take reports of dangerous working conditions seriously. If an employee speaks up, lives could be saved and important essential benefits can be obtained to cover costs and losses which occur due to injuries on-the-job. When employers take any adverse employment actions as a result of reports of injuries or unsafe conditions, employees may take further legal action to recover back pay and damages.
OSHA Protects Whistleblowers from Retaliation
The problems in the recent retaliation case began when a technician reported injuries he sustained while performing his work duties in February of 2014. The employee had been with the company for five years and he requested benefits for the on-the-job injury including reimbursements of co-payments he had paid to receive medical care associated with his injuries. When he requested reimbursement, the company required him to submit a second report of injury. The company then threatened discipline as a result of allegations the report had been filed late.
The employee was subsequently terminated from his position in June of 2014. The employer claimed the technician had been terminated for allegedly making threatening and harassing statements. However, there was no evidence a proper investigation had been conducted or proof had been obtained of this alleged misconduct. Before the reported injury and other incidents, the employee had never been subjected to any discipline.
The technician made a retaliation complaint to OSHA and an investigation was conducted in which it was determined the employer had improperly terminated the worker as a result of his reporting of work injuries and his request for workers' compensation benefits. The company was ordered to reinstate the technician in his job.
In addition to reinstatement, OSHA also ordered the company to pay the technician back wages of $154,749 as well as interest on the wages, and to pay the technician $177,720 in compensatory damages and reasonable legal fees. In addition to reinstating him and repaying him, all notations of disciplinary information must be removed from the technician's record. Further, to help ensure other employees are also informed of their rights, the company must provide information about whistleblower protections to all workers.
Cases like this demonstrate employees should never be afraid to report injuries and to demand benefits owed to them after an on-the-job injury.