Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered a Newark-based Jersey Window Factory & Building Supply Inc. to reinstate a truck driver who was fired after reporting safety concerns about the commercial vehicle he was driving.
The employee raised concerns verbally and in a letter about vehicle defects, including broken side-view mirrors, a driver’s door that couldn’t be opened properly, a broken window handle and a deficient steering mechanism. After submitting a second letter, outlining further safety concerns and questioned whether the company’s safety practices were in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, the employee’s hours were reduced in response to his “whistle blowing” actions. The employee then filed an OSHA safety complaint and was terminated on July 2, 2008. An investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program found reasonable cause that the termination violated the whistleblower provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. OSHA ordered the company to pay the former worker back wages and bonuses as well as $18,000 in compensatory damages.
Whistleblower cases seem to fly under the radar in the news but at the Harman Firm we deal with whistleblower cases on a regular basis. “Workers have the right to voice safety concerns without fear of retaliation or termination,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York. “Employers found in violation of whistleblower protection provisions will be held accountable.”
Whistleblower protection statutes state that employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.