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Beware firing safety whistleblowers

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

The Trump administration’s Department of Labor is aggressively going after employers that fire workers who report alleged workplace safety violations.

It’s one reason to seek expert legal advice before disciplining any potential whistleblower—even for behavior or poor work performance that seems unrelated to any safety report.

Recent case: Matthew and Dino both worked for Lloyd Industries. Matthew took photographs of a machine that injured a co-worker. He shared them with others, leading to an OSHA complaint being filed against the company. Matthew also sent the photos to the injured worker’s attorneys, which helped them obtain workers’ compensation benefits.

Dino, who also happened to be the injured worker’s grandfather, supported Matthew’s actions and ended up testifying at an OSHA hearing on the injury.

OSHA fined the company more than $800,000.

Lloyd Industries fired both men, ostensibly because Matthew was caught sleeping on the job and Dino for disregarding his duties to oversee OSHA compliance, which allegedly led to the injury in question. The terminations occurred within a few days of the company learning about the OSHA inspection and proposed fines.

However, the company had no formal disciplinary process. Usually, it just fired workers if the owner became angry or frustrated with them.

The DOL sued Lloyd Indust-ries on behalf of the fired men, alleging that they had been discharged in violation of Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibitions on retaliation for reporting workplace hazards and for testifying at an OSHA hearing.

The court said the DOL could move forward with the lawsuit, reasoning that it had shown the firings could have been motivated by a desire to punish the men for their activities, not for legitimate business reasons. A jury will decide if that is what happened. (Acosta v. Lloyd Industries, ED PA, 2017)

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