It seems like a pretty simple concept: you break a safety rule (even if you are the injured party) and you can be disciplined. Many firms have used this process for years to enforce rules to keep their employees safe while at work. A recent lawsuit filed by the US Department of Labor could, however, change the way your company handles safety rule violations.
On February 10, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Bell Telephone Company (AT&T) on behalf of 13 injured workers who were given safety rule-related job suspensions in the years 2011 to 2013. The unpaid suspensions were from one to three days according to the suit filed by the Department of Labor.
The employer contends that the suspensions were a result of accident investigations that showed that the injured employee violated corporate workplace safety standards
Applying Whistleblower Protections
The US Department of Labor and OSHA contend that under the federal Whistleblower Protection Program, Ohio Bell (AT&T) retaliated against the employees for reporting a workplace injury – including their own injuries. “It is against the law for employers to discipline or suspend employees for reporting injuries,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. AT&T contends that the suit is without merit.
The outcome of this case could affect how companies discipline workers who injure themselves due to an alleged violation of corporate safety policies—possibly increasing the likelihood of more workers being injured in the future.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration also just made it easier than ever to lodge a complaint against an employer, with a new online reporting option. With promises of lump sum back pay and punitive damages being given to a reporting party under the Whistleblower Protection Program and the position taken by the DOL thus far in the AT&T suit, could the days of being held accountable for safety rules be over?
This post was originally published February 21, 2014.