One very important right of workers here in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. is the right to voice workplace safety concerns without the fear of retaliation. Employees need to be able to express their concerns about workplace hazards and safety threats so that the employer, or authorities, can be aware of any issues that may endanger workers or patrons.
Unfortunately, employers do sometimes break the law and retaliate against workers who complain about safety issues by firing them or taking another adverse action. The U.S. Labor Department recently accused Chicago’s commuter rail agency of doing just that, and has ordered it to provide overtime pay to the victim of the retaliation.
The whistle-blower in this case is a 22-year-old signalman who filed a safety complaint in 2011 to voice concerns about signals not being properly tested due to time constraints. The man complained that there was not enough time to do the testing within his regular hours and he requested overtime hours to complete the work.
Instead of offering the overtime to the worker or finding another way to address this issue, Metra responded by reducing the man’s overtime hours and ultimately eliminating his position, according to the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
While Metra has not explained why it treated the worker this way, an OSHA investigation determined that the man’s safety complaint was the reason behind his employer’s decision to eliminate his position.
As we noted above, employers do not have any right to retaliate against workers who complain of safety issues. The Labor Department ordered Metra to provide the worker with $38,000 in overtime pay, and it appears that Metra has not yet responded to the order.
Source: Chicago Tribune, “OSHA: Metra owes employee in whistleblower case,” April 23, 2013, Richard Wronksi