Can My Employer Terminate Me for Reporting an OSHA Violation?
Workplaces used to have very few regulations, if any, that were in place to protect their employees and the general public. For example, without any environmental regulations, companies simply dumped all of their waste into the nearest body of water without any care. Employees were essentially disposable until only very recently an Act was put in place to legally protect the health and safety of not only employees but the public’s safety, as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 gives employees not only the right, but the protection, to file a complaint and ask for an OSHA inspection if they believe that their workplace is in violation of a health and safety standard and is a serious hazard to others. Employees do not have to know the exact violation, or even know if the hazard is in violation of any OSHA standard. If employees think that their safety is in danger, they have the right to file a claim with OSHA and request an inspection, and their employer cannot legally terminate them for their whistleblowing. An employee should file the complaint with OSHA as soon as they possibly can after they notice the hazard or a violation of safety procedure. The reason being that OSHA citations are only legitimate if the infraction currently exists or existed in the previous six months.
An employee who reports a violation to OSHA against their employer is known as a whistleblower. The violation that is reported can range from sexual harassment to an environmental hazard. There are times when an employer is angered by the employee’s “disloyal” activity, and they terminate them from employment. This is against the law. There exist laws to protect whistleblowers from wrongful termination.
Our lawyers help many whistleblowers who have unjustly seen the hammer of dismissal. Every day we are asked questions that have to do with OSHA and the rights of employees. Examples of such questions include:
- Can I be fired for reporting OSHA violation?
- Can you fire a whistleblower?
- What do I do if I feel like my workplace is in OSHA violation? I don’t want to lose my job.
- Can my boss fire me for reporting an OSHA violation?
- Can I sue my employer for wrongful termination if he fired me for reporting him to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration?
If I Believe There’s a Health & Safety Violation, When Should I File the Complaint?
Let’s say, for example, you witness discrimination occurring in the workplace and want to file a complaint with OSHA. When should you do it? You should file the complaint as soon as possible! Immediately, even. This is because you only have six months from the day you notice the violation, and 30 days to file a complaint of the alleged reprisal. At least one of the eight occurrences must have happened in order to trigger an OSHA on-site investigation:
- A report of imminent danger; “any condition or practices . . . which could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated.”;
- Allegation that harm has occurred and that it presently exists;
- Complaint about an industry which is covered by one of OSHA’s local or national programs;
- Unacceptable response by an employer who has been notified in the past about the ongoing violation in the workplace;
- Referral from a whistleblower;
- A complaint against a facility already undergoing an OSHA inspection for a previous violation of OSHA standards.
- A written, signed complaint by a current employee or representative which describes the violation that threatens the health and safety of employees/the general public.
- A complaint employer has a past history of malicious, egregious actions which are anti-OSHA within the past three (3) years.
What Happens If My Employer Retaliates and Terminates Me?
It is unlawful for employers to retaliate against their whistleblowing employees who have reported a health and safety OSHA violation to the agency itself. The OSHA protects such workers who report unsafe or unhealthful working conditions which may pose a threat to safety, immediate or otherwise. Apart from not having the legal right to dismiss you from your position, an employer cannot transfer, deny a raise or bonus, reduce your hours, assignment to an undesirable job location, denial of any benefits earned (like sick leave or vacation time), or punish you in any way only because you acted within your right and filed a complaint against them to OSHA.
In order to prove discrimination to OSHA, you must be able to show that your employer wrongfully terminated you because you filed a safety and health complaint about conditions that existed on the job or environment. This means you must show that your employer treated you differently than those coworkers who did not file the complaint against OSHA. Furthermore, the alleged discrimination must have had happened around the time you filed the complaint. For more information about this, please contact our Los Angeles lawyers. Our law firm is in Los Angeles but we present clients across the entire State of California.
If you have been punished by your employer for using your rights, you have to file a complaint within thirty (30) days of the act of discrimination.
In the eyes and definition of OSHA, discrimination occurs when your efforts to improve the health and safety of your workplace has adverse consequences, like the ones listed above.
The rights you have under the OSHA are limited in that you only have limited motion if you refuse to do a job because of the hazard element. Under the OSHA, you only have three excuses to use if you believe that performing a job is hazardous:
- You believe that death or injury will be the only outcomes of your doing this job, and it is so clearly dangerous that any reasonable person would have to come to the same conclusion;
- You have attempted to bring this hazard to your employer, and have been unsuccessful in getting the correction, and there is no other way to perform the duty;
- The situation is urgent enough that you do not have time to file a complaint.
If you feel your current attorney is not maximizing your case value, contact our firm for a free second opinion.
How Long Do Investigations Take?
The length of the investigation depends on the kind of violation which has been reported, but it usually takes anywhere from two to three months. The more evidence you are able to provide OSHA in order to support your case and the more witnesses exist to be interviewed, the longer the case may take. But, on the other side of the coin, the more evidence and witnesses you provide, the stronger your case will be, and it is more likely that OSHA will succeed in proving your case. The best way you can provide evidence is by documenting your complaint. You can save notes from meetings that you had with your employer, provide copies of recent employee performance evaluations, and identify key witnesses that may help strengthen the likelihood of your story.
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If you believe that your employer has violated OSHA laws and has acted unlawfully, you may have the grounds to file a lawsuit against your employer and get what you are merited in damages. The California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group is here to help you if you believe that your employer has acted in violation of OSHA and punished you unlawfully. Our Los Angeles attorney group will provide free consultations – which gives you the opportunity to speak to one of our attorneys and explain your case, and the attorney will give you their initial thoughts on the matter – and a zero-fee guarantee, which means that we will not charge you unless we win the case. This puts all the financial risk on us! Contact us today to talk to one of our attorneys if you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated for using your right as a whistleblower.