Employee Safety and Retaliation
It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who exercises a right under the law. Federal and state laws prohibit an employer from engaging in retaliatory tactics when an employee reports a workplace safety hazard. Retaliation comes in various forms. It can include firing, demoting, disciplining, or reducing an employee's hours.
Retaliation Under OSHA
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces federal safety standards in the workplace. Under OSHA, employers must provide a safe workplace. It is the employers' responsibility to document workplace injuries, warn employees of potential dangers, and provide safety training.
When an employee discovers a safety hazard, the employee has a legal right to report it — and to report it without being the target of retaliation. It is wise to report any workplace safety matters to OSHA or other government entities before if not at the same time you report an issue to an employer. It gives the employee who filed the complaint more leverage if their employer retaliates against them.
OSHA prohibits an employer from engaging in retaliatory measures against the employee that filed a complaint, assisted in an OSHA investigation, or spoke to an OSHA investigator. If the employer engages in illegal retaliation against the employee, the employee may file a complaint with a local OSHA office within 30 days from the retaliatory action.
To prevail, the employee must prove that the employer's retaliatory actions resulted because of the employee's participation in filing the workplace complaint. If, for instance, the employer discharged the employee because of incompetence or because of company layoffs, the employee will not succeed.
OSHA must respond to a retaliation complaint within 90 days. If the investigator determines that the employee was the victim of illegal retaliation, they will seek remedial measures by the employer, such as reinstatement of the employee or paying the employee back pay. If the employer refuses, OSHA can file a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the employee.
Retaliation Under State Law
In addition to OSHA regulations, many states have laws that regulate employee workplace safety. Just like under OSHA, many states also provide provisions that prohibit retaliation.
Retaliation laws vary by state, but many include provisions that prohibit an employer from firing an employee that exercises the legal right to report a safety violation. Some states even protect an employee's right to enforce provisions that require employers to report the presence of hazardous material in the workplace to employees. In general, an employee may file a retaliation complaint with the appropriate state agency.
Research the Law
- U.S. Supreme Court Cases and Opinions
- Official State Codes -- Links to the official online statutes (laws) in all 50 states and DC.
Employee Safety and Retaliation Laws: Related Resources
Are you hoping to do your own research? FindLaw can help you in the process. We've compiled a list of articles that are related to OSHA issues. Start by clicking on the following links below.
- Heat Stress: OSHA Regulations
- OSHA Help for New Businesses
- Protecting Yourself from Unsafe Working Conditions
Get Legal Help With Employee Safety and Retaliation Questions
If you have a potential workplace safety legal issue, it's best to talk to a skilled attorney who specializes in this particular area of the law. You can contact an employment lawyer in your area today to learn more.
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Contact a qualified workplace safety attorney to make sure your rights are protected.