Workers Illegally Disciplined for Filing Safety Complaints

Twenty-two workers in New York and New Jersey who reported workplace hazards and were fired or penalized as a result, reached settlements with their employers.

Twenty-two workers in New York and New Jersey who reported workplace hazards and were fired or penalized as a result, reached settlements with their employers, according to a report issued by the Department of Labor (DOL).

Under the terms of the settlement agreement reached between employers and OSHA, the 22 workers received a total of $124,699 in back wages for fiscal year 2000.

Other remedies included reinstatement, informal negotiated settlements between the complaintants and their employers, and the requirement that employers display posters on the rights of employees.

According to Patricia Clark, OSHA regional administrator, OSHA''s emphasis was on timely help for the employees.

"The great majority of these cases were resolved quickly -- many in less than a month," said Clark. "The intent of OSHA''s whistleblower regulations is that workers must not be penalized for doing the right thing and speaking out about workplace safety hazards."

Workers who have been discriminated against for exercising their right to report unsafe conditions or other protections provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Act must contact an OSHA office within 30 days of the time they learn of an alleged discriminatory action taken against them.

Truckers, mechanics and other involved in interstate trucking have 180 days under provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

If the complaint is timely and appears to have merit, OSHA investigates it, ordering reinstatement or other remedies if an investigation confirms the allegations.

Under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, either party can file an objection to OSHA''s findings.

The matter is then decided by an administrative law judge; a final order is issued by the secretary of labor.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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