Federal Court Reaffirms Whistleblower Damages Rights
A federal court case has reaffirmed the U.S. Department of Labor’s authority to seek damages for whistleblowers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against a community health center in New York and its CEO in June of 2021.
The lawsuit alleged the health center violated the OSH Act when they suspended and later fired an employee who reported concerns about COVID-19 exposure at an in-person staff meeting.
The employer then filed a motion to prevent DOL from seeking individual damages for the whistleblower.
The employer argued that the private state whistleblower claim was dismissed, meaning that DOL could not get monetary relief for the worker.
A federal judge ruled otherwise.
In September of 2022 a U.S. District Court denied the motion and highlighted the importance of strong whistleblower protection provisions and enforcement.
OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson said the health center’s actions have a “chilling effect on other employees who wish to come forward with concerns about workplace hazards.”
The case reminds employers of the need to treat all worker complaints cautiously.
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