Of all the reasons to terminate an employee, “helping an OSHA inspector” may be among the least defensible. Yet that’s the reasoning a Pennsylvania employer had to justify in a court case.
Unsurprisingly, the defendant lost.
The details come to us from an Occupational Safety and Health Administration news release. The U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania ruled that Lloyd Industries Inc. and owner William P. Lloyd had unlawfully fired two employees for participating in an OSHA inspection. The regulatory visit was prompted by a safety incident involving amputation.
The company terminated the first employee after OSHA began its investigation, and then let the second employee go after OSHA issued its citations.
A jury ruled against Lloyd Industries. The Court awarded the two employees $1.04 million in lost wages and punitive damages.
Aside from the obvious lesson here—you really shouldn’t fire someone for following their occupational health and safety responsibilities under the law—there are a few more takeaways for employers:
- Don’t fire an employee for any old reason. Review your employee terminations and make sure they’re on a legal safe ground. Learn more about wrongful termination and its impact on your bottom line.
- Report safety incidents, fix problematic areas, and take preventative measures to minimize future risk. Had the employer in this case effectively managed workplace safety issues, the ensuing investigation, termination, lawsuit, and ruling all could have been avoided.
- Take federal whistleblower statutes seriously. Be aware that OSHA provides protections to employees under more than 20 different provisions.
This is especially important as OSHA has strengthened its’ whistleblower protections with the launch of it’s COVID-19 National Emphasis Program.
An OSHA inspection can be difficult for any employer—don’t make it even harder for yourself and your workforce. If your organization is on the regulatory radar, don’t panic. Learn how to handle OSHA visits successfully.