A contractor for the Department of Energy’s decommissioned Hanford nuclear site in Washington state has been ordered to reinstate an environmental specialist and pay more than $220,000 in back wages and other expenses after it fired the employee for voicing nuclear and environmental safety concerns.
OSHA took the actions against Washington River Protection Solutions after the employee repeatedly reported nuclear and environmental safety and permit and recordkeeping violations. When the employer advertised the vacant position, the employer refused to rehire the employee despite adequate qualifications and previous satisfactory performance reviews, according to OSHA.
“The people most able to identify hazards are often the workers who are threatened by them,” said Galen Lemke, OSHA’s acting regional administrator. “Employees must never be punished for sounding an alarm when they see a problem that could injure, sicken or kill someone, or harm the environment.”
OSHA has ordered Washington River Protection to:
- Rehire the employee with the same pay and benefits that the employee currently would receive if not for the termination.
- Pay the employee $185,949 in lost pay plus interest, $24,380 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in exemplary damages and reasonable attorney's fees.
- Post a “Your Rights Under the Energy Reorganization Act” poster.
- Remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record.
- Provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.
The 586-square-mile Hanford Site in southeastern Washington state produced plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1943 until approximately 1987. The production processes left solid and liquid waste that posed a risk to the local environment. The Department of Energy has been overseeing the site cleanup since 1989.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions for 22 statutes, protecting employees who report violations of various safety, environmental and financial regulations.