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Whistleblower Protection Laws: How Employees Are Protected for Making Safety Complaints

Whistleblower Protection Laws: How Employees Are Protected for Making Safety Complaints

Both state and federal law prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who file safety complaints.

Whistleblower Protection Laws: How Employees Are Protected for Making Safety Complaints

Workplace safety is a major issue for all employees. Hazardous conditions, whether it be unsafe chemicals, inadequate safety gear, or exposure to toxic substances, can have a significant impact on the well-being of all workers. Over the past century, the United States has made substantial strides in making workplaces safer through the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and related state laws. Yet some employers still cut corners on safety to save money, or even unwittingly expose employees to dangerous conditions. This often puts workers in a predicament: do they risk their jobs by making a complaint, or risk their health by saying nothing?

Fortunately, there are laws in place that are designed to prevent employees from having to make this choice. According to an experienced wrongful termination attorney, both federal law (under OHSA) and various state laws explicitly protect employees who make safety complaints. For example, in California, there is a specific law that protects whistleblowers for occupational health and safety issues. Under California Labor Code 6310, retaliation is prohibited against employees who report violations of California’s occupational health and safety codes to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. This law also prohibits employer discrimination or retaliation against family members of people who report worker health and safety violations.

California and Arizona are both at-will employment states, which means that employers can fire employees for any reason and without warning, as long as the reason is not illegal. However, firing an employee because he or she filed a safety complaint — either to the federal or state government or through the company’s internal mechanisms — is against the law. As such, firing an employee for blowing the whistle on safety violations may be considered a wrongful termination.

Importantly, there are other types of retaliation that fall short of firing that may also occur after an employee files a safety complaint. This may include constructive termination, which is when an employer makes an employee’s working conditions so intolerable that he or she has no choice but to quit, or demoting an employee. Alternatively, an employer might refuse to promote an employee, or deny him or her access to training opportunities or even the resources that he or she needs to do the job properly. Any or all of this may be a form of retaliation. A skilled wrongful termination attorney can explore your options with you if you believe that you have been the subject of retaliation or constructive termination because you filed a safety complaint.

Employees who have been subjected to wrongful termination or retaliation for blowing the whistle on safety violations can file a lawsuit against their employer. However, there are specific procedures that must be followed prior to filing this type of lawsuit, based on whether the case is filed in federal or state court. A skilled wrongful termination attorney can help you determine if a lawsuit is the best course of action for you, and ensure that all of the proper steps are taken. Because there are specific deadlines for these cases, it is critical that you consult a wrongful termination attorney as soon as possible to explore your options.

If you believe that you have been retaliated against or wrongfully fired because you complained about safety issues, PLBSH can help. Our seasoned wrongful termination attorneys have more than 40 years of experience getting justice for our clients. Contact us today at (800) 435-7542 or to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help.

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