DuraLabel's Weekly Safety News

Blog Author Angelique Sanders

Weekly safety news. Stay in touch with regulations from OSHA, NFPA, and other safety codes. Find out about other companies' best and worst practices. We scour the internet to provide you with helpful training resources and the latest safety information.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Three Companies Reach Whistle-Blower Settlements With OSHA

The Wisconsin Ag Connection reports that Pilgrim's Pride has reached a settlement agreement with OSHA concerning an instance in which the company terminated an employee, who raised environmental complaints.

Read the Wisconsin Ag Connection article here.

OSHA initiated an investigation upon receiving a complaint from a manager for water reclamation at the company's chicken processing plant. The manager had alerted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality when process and storm water containing excessive amounts of chromium, lead and mercury were discharged into the environment. According to the complainant, Pilgrim's Pride stated that the TCEQ did not need to be notified and that sharing the information was not in the company's best interest, and consequently terminated the manager's employment.

Prior to OSHA issuing its investigative findings, the parties reached an agreement in which the employer will pay the complainant $50,000.  Pilgrim's Pride also has agreed to post a notice to employees advising them of their whistleblower rights, purge any derogatory information in the employee's personnel file directly related to the incident and provide a neutral job reference. In exchange, the employee will not seek reinstatement.

The Knoxville Biz reports (click here) that Knoxville-based  Heartland Transportation has reached a settlement with OSHA in awhistleblower case.

In August 2009, the employee was assigned to deliver a truckload of U.S. mail, when he found that his assigned trailer had a nonworking light. After he complained, the light was repaired and the delivery made. The employee had complained about such mechanical failures on a number of previous occasions, but the problems recurred. Accordingly, he informed his employer that he would not drive trucks with such failures in the future. Upon returning to the company's facility from Michigan, the driver found that his name had been removed from the driving schedule. He inquired about this development and was informed during a meeting to discuss the issue that his employment had been terminated. The employee then submitted a whistle-blower complaint to OSHA, which conducted an investigation.

According to the settlement agreement, the company will pay the complainant $31,200, including $9,895 in back wages. Additionally, the company agreed to purge any personnel records regarding the involuntary discharge of the employee and provide a neutral reference to any prospective employers. The company also agreed to post a notice informing all employees of their right to raise safety concerns or conduct any other protected activity under the STAA without suffering retaliation.

An OSHA press release reports that CMM Realty Inc., a South Carolina-based real estate management company headquartered in Columbia, and owner C. Michael Munson, have reached an agreement with OSHA that resolves an OSHA lawsuit alleging the illegal termination of a maintenance employee who raised workplace and environmental concerns regarding asbestos at a work site.

A consent judgment filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, provides for the payment of $45,000 to the employee as well as injunctive relief that permanently prohibits the defendants from violating the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The judgment also requires the defendants to display posters along with whistleblower protection fact sheets, in English and Spanish, from the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the company's facilities; expunge all disciplinary actions in the employee's official employment record; and provide any prospective employers with a neutral reference for this worker.

The employee, who worked at CMM Realty's Briargate Condominiums in Columbia, had reported asbestos exposures on May 13, 2009, to both the South Carolina OSHA Program and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Conservation. On that same day the employee was informed that his services were no longer needed, and five days later, was officially notified of his termination. Both state agencies conducted inspections and issued citations against CMM Realty for violating asbestos control standards.

The employee then filed a complaint with federal OSHA. OSHA conducted an investigation, found the company had violated the Clean Air Act's whistleblower provisions, and ordered that the employee be reinstated and compensated. The company appealed that order to the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. In 2011, the department sued the company in federal court for violating Section 11(c) of the OSH Act – which forbids companies from discriminating against an employee for filing a complaint with OSHA – and requested to have the Clean Air Act case stayed pending the outcome of the Section 11(c) litigation. This consent judgment settles both departmental claims in this matter.

Related Past Posts:
OSHA Finds Trans-Hudson Violated Whistleblower Laws
Protecting America's Workers Act
Judge Says Whistleblower Got Railroaded

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posted by Steve Hudgik
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