A Montgomeryville company must pay $1,047,399 in lost wages and punitive damages for violating the retaliation provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). The punitive damage award of $500,000 is the largest ever awarded under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. In granting this landmark judgment, the federal judge emphasizes the importance of a paramount workers’ compensation issue – employee safety.
Employer Duties Under the OSH Act
All Pennsylvania employers are bound by the General Duty clause of the OSH Act, which states that employers must furnish employees with workplaces that are free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Therefore, employers must remedy reasonably foreseeable hazards in the workplace whenever feasible and provide workers with the appropriate safety gear and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Employee Rights Under the OSH Act
Employees are entitled to safe and healthful workplaces. They also have a right to report safety concerns without fear of retaliation. Employees may request an OSHA inspection, speak to an OSHA inspector, report an injury or illness, review records of work-related injuries, and obtain copies of test results regarding workplace hazards – and they may not be retaliated against by their employers for doing so.
Landmark Punitive Damages Judgment for Retaliation
OSHA began investigating the Pennsylvania company, a manufacturer of fire protection equipment, after one of its workers suffered an amputation injury. The company fired the injured worker shortly after the investigation was complete and OSHA had issued penalties for health and safety violations. Another worker was subsequently fired for cooperating with OSHA in its federal safety investigation.
OSHA Prohibits Retaliation
Employers may not fire, demote, transfer, or otherwise retaliate against a worker for exercising his or her rights under the OSH Act. Therefore, employees should be free to raise concerns about possible violations, report hazards, and cooperate with law enforcement. Those who are retaliated against for doing so may file a retaliation complaint to recover lost wages and the court may also choose to impose punitive damages to dissuade other employers from engaging in similar egregious behavior.
OSHA Recommendations for Employers
OSHA provides several recommended practices for employers to assist in their compliance with anti-retaliation provisions. Although not required, OSHA suggests that employers implement an anti-retaliation program that consists of five key elements:
- Commitment by senior management and demonstration of leadership by setting a good example, as well as being held accountable for their responses to employees’ concerns
- A culture that encourages employees to raise concerns and a system for reporting and resolving those concerns
- A system for responding to retaliation reports
- Anti-retaliation training for all employees and all levels of management
- Oversight of the program to ensure its effectiveness
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Protect Workers’ Rights
As a Pennsylvania employee, you are entitled to a safe and healthful workplace and you have the right to voice your concerns. If you were injured at work, contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Our experienced attorneys can help ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the maximum benefits to which you are entitled. For a free consultation, please complete our online contact form or call us at 888-PITT-LAW.
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