“Employees have a right to raise legitimate environmental and safety concerns without fear of retaliation, discrimination, harassment or being put in harm's way,” said Patricia K. Clark, OSHA's regional administrator, whose New York office conducted the investigation.
After notifying the town and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation of possible violations of environmental laws by the town during 2006, the employee was subjected to harassment over several months and twice suspended in the fall. He filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA on Dec. 1, 2006. On Dec. 6, he was assigned to cut trees during unsafe weather conditions and suffered a disabling injury while doing so.
OSHA's investigation found that the suspensions, harassment and assignment to work under dangerous conditions were in retaliation for the environmental complaints. After being informed of OSHA's findings, the town agreed to take corrective measures.
The town paid the employee $99,000 in compensatory damages and $919.52 in back wages covering the two suspensions, and expunged the suspensions from the employee's personnel file. It also agreed to establish a clear policy prohibiting retaliation against employees for raising environmental or safety-related concerns, arrange for OSHA to train town management and employees on their respective responsibilities and rights under federal whistleblower laws and post a notice of employees' whistleblower rights.
“It's important to note that the settlement goes beyond this one case,” said Clark. “The settlement establishes a mechanism to educate the town and its employees, and prevent this sort of retaliatory behavior in the future.”
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 13 other statutes that protect employees who report workplace safety and health concerns or violations of various environmental, trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline and securities laws. More information about those provisions is available at http://www.osha.gov/dep/oia/whistleblower/index.html.