OSHA Seeks Legal Action for Wrongful Firing of Whistleblowers Thinkstock

OSHA Seeks Legal Action for Wrongful Firing of Whistleblowers

OSHA is requesting a jury trial for a company it found to have wrongfully discharged employees who filed health and safety complaints.

OSHA is requesting a jury trial for a company it found to have wrongfully discharged employees who filed health and safety complaints.

Eastern Awning Systems Inc., a Watertown, Conn.-based manufacturer of retractable fabric patio awnings, discharged two employees while OSHA was still investigating their complaints.

The two employees in question had filed reports in June 2009 with OSHA after falling ill from working in the company’s powder coat room. OSHA in December 2009 cited the company for willfully exposing the workers to inhalation hazards and for lack of adequate ventilation. However, by then, the employees already had been discharged.

The employees filed whistleblower complaints with OSHA, which in turn found the employees had been wrongfully discharged for filing health and safety complaints.

All attempts made to settle the situation without litigation were unsuccessful, according to OSHA. The case is being handled by Attorney Nathan C. Henderson of the Labor Department’s Boston office.

OSHA is asking the court to find that Eastern Awning Systems Inc. and Stephen P. Lukos – the company’s owner, president and director – wrongfully discharged the employees and order them to pay lost wages plus interest; pay compensatory for emotional distress; pay punitive damages; be prohibited from future such violations; post a workplace notice informing employees of their rights; and pay the cost of the lawsuit.

“This is a case where an employer willfully exposed its employees to workplace hazards, then compounded its unacceptable behavior by retaliating against these workers for exercising their rights to a healthy work environment,” said Kim Stille, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.

“The law is clear and so is our message to employers: You cannot discriminate against employees for filing complaints with OSHA or voicing concerns about hazardous conditions in the workplace. When employers take retaliatory actions as the defendants did here, we will pursue strong and appropriate remedies, including through legal action if needed” said Michael Felsen, the regional solicitor of labor for New England.

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