What Should You Do When You Think Your Employer Is Retaliating Against You For Reporting OSHA Violations?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration places regulations on businesses that help ensure that employees are kept safe in the workplace. Businesses that violate these regulations can face fines from OSHA. However, OSHA doesn't typically inspect businesses to make sure that they're following all of the federal safety regulations placed on them — they rely on employees reporting potential safety violations to OSHA. Once an employee reports a potential safety hazard, OSHA may send an inspector out to the workplace in order to make sure the business is following federal safety rules.
Unfortunately, some businesses retaliate against employees who report safety violations — businesses don't want to go through the hassle of inspections that can potentially carry steep fines. Employers may fire or demote employees who report anything to OSHA as a way of intimidating employees into silence. Thankfully, workers have legal protections against this. If you've reported the conditions at your workplace to OSHA and think that your employer is taking actions against you as a way to punish you, read on to learn more about your rights and what you should do.
Can You Sue Your Employer for Retaliating Against You After You Report an OSHA Violation?
Reporting a potential safety violation to OSHA (or telling your boss that you'll report something to OSHA) is considered a protected action, so your employer isn't allowed to retaliate against you because of it. Even if the safety violation that you report isn't against OSHA regulations, it's still considered a protected action. If your employer retaliates against you because of your reporting, then you're able to file an OSHA retaliation claim against them, and you also may be able to file a lawsuit against them depending on employment laws in your state.
What Actions Can Be Considered Retaliation?
Any adverse employment action can be considered to be retaliation. This includes firing you, demoting you, switching you to a lower-paying job role, or refusing to promote you. Harassment or intimidation from your employer while you're on the job can also be considered to be retaliation. Blacklisting is also a form of retaliation that some employers use — if you're fired and have difficulty finding another job in your industry because your employer is warning everyone that you report potential OSHA violations, then it's retaliation.
In addition, the adverse employment action needs to be caused by the fact that you reported something to OSHA. If you're angry after your employer retaliates against you and stop showing up for work, for example, your employer can simply fire you for poor work attendance. This is a perfectly valid reason to fire an employee, so you won't have any protection under the law.
What Damages Can You Receive in a Successful Lawsuit Against Your Employer?
If your employer retaliates against you and you file a lawsuit against them, whether it's a personal lawsuit or from OSHA itself filing a suit, you're entitled to any wages that you lost as a result of your employer firing you, demoting you, or reducing your hours. If you're fired and lose your employer-provided health insurance, you can also seek damages for medical bills that you had to pay while you were uninsured.
What Should You Do if You Think Your Employer Is Retaliating Against You?
When you believe that your employer is retaliating against you for reporting a potential OSHA violation, you should speak to an employment attorney in your area as soon as possible. If your employer does retaliate against you, it needs to be reported to OSHA quickly. An employment attorney can help you provide documentation to OSHA that suggests that the adverse employment action against you was caused by reporting safety violations to OSHA, and an employment attorney can also help you file a lawsuit against your employer on your own if they've violated state employment laws.