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Never retaliate for reporting safety hazards

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

A federal appeals court has concluded that California employees are entitled to protection from retaliation for reporting safety hazards, even if it’s part of their jobs.

In so doing, it predicted that the California Supreme Court would agree with its conclusion if a revised section of the Labor Code reaches that court. Section 1102.5 of the code was amended in 2014 to protect workers who disclose violations of statute or law as part of their job duties.

Recent case: William worked for Schindler Elevator Corp. as an elevator mechanic. While inspecting an elevator at a Nordstrom store, he reported a potential safety problem to both Schindler and the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health. The hazard? The dangerous location of the store’s elevator shunt trip—a condition that he reasonably believed created an electrocution hazard to persons entering the elevator machine room, including elevator repairmen such as himself.

Shortly after, William was laid off in a reduction in force.

He sued, alleging he lost his job in retaliation for reporting the elevator problem.

The trial court said William had no case because he had merely been doing his job and that’s not protected activity.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. That court predicted that the 2014 amendment would make reporting safety hazards as part of one’s job protected activity, too. (Lukov v. Schindler Elevator Corporation, No. 12-17695, 9th Cir., 2015)

Final note: This was just the first round of the case. Schindler had hoped to prevent William from ever getting his day in court. Of course, the employer can still try to show that the reduction in force was legitimate. It can do this by outlining objective factors that went into the selection process like seniority, past performance and skills.

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