PA Company Pays Out $1.04 Million For Whistleblower Protection Violation

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Whistleblower Protection Violations

 

In August 2019, a federal judge awarded $547,399 in lost wages plus compensation, and $500,000 in punitive damages, to two former employees of a Pennsylvania fire protection equipment manufacturer.

The judge’s decision followed an April 2019 trial, in which a jury concluded that the company illegally fired the employees for taking part in a 2014 OSHA inspection of the facility.

The punitive damage award marks the largest ever under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. This section of the OSH Act gives employees the right to file a whistleblower complaint, and to be protected from employer retaliation.

 

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One reason for such a significant punitive damage award is that the court judged the company’s actions as “deliberative flouting of the act.”

Since 2000, dozens of serious injuries have been reported by the company and, it was placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program in 2015.

 

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

 

Whistleblower protection provisions, currently in place for 22 Federal Statutes, are enforced by OSHA and equivalent OSHA State Plans.

Employees working in industries covered by these 22 laws maintain the right to file complaints, and to be protected from retaliation by employers for reporting violations involving workplace safety and health, and other protected activities.

 

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OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program helps companies create or enhance workplaces in which participants, including employees, contractors, and temporary workers, can feel comfortable raising concerns without fear of retaliation. A workplace with an effective anti-retaliation (whistleblower) program contributes to a safer and healthier environment, and a positive workplace culture. This is great for both employee morale and business as a whole!

OSHA’s program provides a framework for establishing and maintaining non-mandatory anti-retaliation practices. The program’s principal recommendations were unanimously endorsed by the Secretary of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee.

Its five main elements cover:

  • Management Commitment, Leadership, and Accountability
  • Compliance Concern Response System
  • Anti-Retaliation Response System
  • Anti-Retaliation Training
  • Program Oversight

 

Maintaining a Safe, Healthy Working Environment

 

Even with a whistleblower protection program in place, employers must understand that their employees still have the right to report “complaints about hazards or potential violations of the law with OSHA and other government agencies.”

 

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As stated in OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Guide, “Employer policies must not discourage employees from reporting concerns to a government agency, delay employee reports to government, or require employees to report concerns to the employer first.”

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