Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSH Act”), employers are responsible for providing safe and healthy workplaces for their employees. Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, which is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising a wide range of rights afforded to them by the OSH Act, including but not limited to:
* communicating orally or in writing with management personnel about occupational safety or health matters, including asking questions or expressing concerns, requesting safety data sheets, reporting a work-related injury or illness, or requesting copies of OSHA regulations;
* filing a safety/health complaint with OSHA; or
* participating in an OSHA on-site inspection.
Basically, the OSH Act protects an employee’s right to file a complaint with OSHA or to bring health and safety issues/work-related injuries to the attention of his or her employer without fear of termination or other retaliation. Other acts of retaliation may include firing or laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, disciplining, denying benefits, failure to hire or rehire, intimidation, making threats, reassignment affecting prospects for promotion, or reducing pay or hours.
For example, on December 28, 2016, OSHA found that BNSF Railway Company violated federal law when it terminated a track inspector for insubordination after the employee reported railroad track defects to management. OSHA ordered BNSF to pay more than $147,000 in back wages and damages and take other corrective actions.
On September 29, 2015, a federal judge ordered an Idaho employer to pay $100,000 in punitive damages for terminating an employee for reporting safety violations. The court also issued a permanent injunction barring this employer from retaliating against employees who report safety problems in the future.
On March 13, 2012, OSHA determined that Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. violated the law when it took retaliatory action against an employee who reported a workplace injury. OSHA found that the railroad interfered with the worker’s medical treatment and forced him to work in violation of his physician’s orders. OSHA then ordered Metro-North to pay $10,000 in punitive damages to the worker and $8,830 in attorney’s fees.
On October 14, 2010, OSHA obtained a consent judgment ordering The John Galt Corp. and two of its former managers to compensate a worker who was fired for raising a health and safety issue during an asbestos removal project that the company oversaw in New York City. OSHA brought a legal action, and as a result, the defendants signed a consent judgment that ordered them to pay the worker $55,000 in back wages and expunge all references to suspension or dismissal from his personnel file.
If you believe that your employer has retaliated against you because you raised health and safety issues or reported a work-related injury, contact a New York employment attorney as soon as possible, as complaints must be filed within 30 days after the alleged unfavorable employment action occurs (that is, when the employee is notified of the retaliatory action).