Minnesota employees who make good-faith reports about safety concerns are protected from retaliation. Before you approve a termination recommendation, make sure the employee hasn’t recently complained about safety issues.
If he has, verify that the discharge reasons are genuine. Otherwise, prepare for a retaliation lawsuit.
Recent case: Michael Anderson was fired from his job with Graybar Electric hours after adding a section to his latest self-evaluation that criticized the company’s safety practices. Anderson pointed out that he had complained about what he believed was an unsafe racking system in the warehouse, and that the company had ignored his complaint.
He sued, alleging retaliation under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.
The court said his case could go to trial because his complaint was made in good faith and concerned a potential safety hazard.
The fact that the company was never found guilty of violating safety laws because of the racking didn’t matter. What mattered was that Anderson believed the racks were a safety hazard that violated the law when he made the complaint. The court said the timing of the discharge was suspicious. (Anderson v. Graybar Electric, No. 09-251, DC MN, 2010)
Final note: Remind managers and supervisors that they shouldn’t try to punish employees who complain about safety—even if they get tired of constant gripes that don’t pan out. A better approach: Create a safety committee to address such complaints. That may even earn you savings on your workers’ compensation premiums.