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Whistle-blower law insulates noncomplaining workers, too

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in Compensation and Benefits,Firing,Hiring,Human Resources

When two workers complained to two co-workers that their employer wasn’t providing protective gear while they installed insulation, it started a chain of events that led to their firings.

The co-workers who heard the complaint in turn contacted the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration about the situation.

The employer responded by cutting the four workers’ pay and hiring others to perform their jobs. Eventually all four workers were fired. The co-workers filed suit, claiming protection under Michigan’s Whistleblower Act.

The employer mounted a two-pronged defense. First, it claimed the whistle-blower law didn’t protect the two workers who initially complained—you must blow the whistle to be a whistle-blower. The court decided this argument was just hot air. Any employee unfairly punished as the result of a worker exercising rights under the Whistleblower Act is protected.

The second prong of the employer’s defense was that the four were terminated because the business lacked the money to pay them. But the plaintiffs noted the employer immediately replaced the four with other workers. Plus it had trained the four fired workers on company software just before terminating them. The court said it was clear the terminations were a desperate gasp, not a planned downsizing.

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