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May 22, 2014
OSHA's message: Honor workers' right to report injuries

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is taking Southwestern Bell Telephone Company to court on behalf of employees who were disciplined for reporting workplace injuries in Missouri and Kansas. Keep reading for the details, plus reminders of your duty under the law as an employer.

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At issue are allegations that employees were disciplined and/or given unsatisfactory performance appraisals in four separate incidents. While the employer says the employees violated company safety rules, OSHA’s investigation found that the real reason was that the employees reported their injuries.

OSHA says one Missouri employee injured his knee in early 2011 when he stepped into a depression during snowy conditions. His performance rating was categorized as below expectation in safety as a result. Another employee received a poor performance appraisal after the employer said a job-related fracture was due to violating company policies.

Two other workers were given performance notices for safety violations, one after reporting a back injury and the other for an ankle injury that caused him to miss 8 days of work.

OSHA found the four employees were illegally disciplined for reporting their injuries—not due to safety policy violations as the employer claimed. In response, the DOL has filed suit in a Missouri district court. The DOL alleges that the company violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.

What are your duties—and your employees’ rights—under whistleblower laws?

To help ensure that workers are free to participate in safety and health activities, Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits anyone from discharging, retaliating, or discriminating against any worker for exercising his or her rights under the act. Protected activities include:

  • Raising safety and health concerns with an employer,
  • Reporting a work-related injury or illness,
  • Filing a complaint with OSHA,
  • Seeking an OSHA inspection,
  • Participating in an OSHA inspection, and
  • Participating or testifying in any proceeding related to an OSHA inspection.

Protection from discrimination means that an employer cannot retaliate by taking “adverse action.” Examples include:

  • Firing or laying off,
  • Blacklisting,
  • Demoting,
  • Denying overtime or promotion,
  • Disciplining,
  • Denying benefits,
  • Failing to hire or rehire,
  • Intimidating,
  • Making threats,
  • Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion, and
  • Reducing pay or hours.
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