AT&T workers who allegedly were suspended without pay for reporting workplace injuries will have their day in court. U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit – Perez v. The Ohio Bell Telephone Co., Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-269 – against the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., which operates as AT&T, on behalf of 13 employees who received unpaid suspensions after reporting work place injuries from 2011 to 2013.
“It is against the law for employers to discipline or suspend employees for reporting injuries,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “AT&T must understand that by discouraging workers from reporting injuries, it increases the likelihood of more workers being injured in the future. And the Labor Department will do everything in its power to prevent this type of retaliation.”
The complaint alleges that in 13 separate incidents, employees of AT&T were disciplined and given one- to three-day unpaid suspensions for reporting injuries that occurred on the job. OSHA’s investigation found that the suspensions were a result of workers reporting their injuries. However, the company alleges that each employee violated a corporate workplace safety standard.
"We believe the suit is without merit," Marty Richter, AT&T spokesman, told EHS Today. "We’ve long been recognized as an employer of choice and are committed to full compliance with all federal and state laws, including workplace safety laws."
Five of the employees in the suit are based in Columbus; two in Brooklyn Heights; two in Canton; and one each in Akron, Cleveland, Gallipolis and Uhrichsville. The workers' injuries included a broken rib that occured from a fall off a ladder, a sprained shoulder that resulted from a slip and fall on ice, a smashed finger that happened during a cable repair and knee surgery from another ladder incident.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, alleges the company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Cleveland is litigating the case.
OSHA Enforces Whistleblower Act
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise concerns or provide information to their employer or the government under any of these laws. Employees who believe they are a victim of retaliation for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with OSHA’s Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs.
For the most part, commenters on Cleveland.com, which published an article about the lawsuit, were supportive of the injured workers. One noted, "Thirteen workers suspended in two-year period for being injured, certainly sounds like a management policy." One poster sided with the company, writing, "They aren't being disciplined for reporting the injury, they are being disciplined for breaking a company safety rule. All too often, workers think that they can ignore safety and then cry about how awful the company is when they get hurt."