The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) filed a lawsuit against a luxury car dealer for terminating an employee who raised concerns about “potential coronavirus hazards in the workplace” and communicated those concerns to managers and coworkers.
According to an October 13 news release, the lawsuit follows an investigation by DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that found Hi Tech Motorcars LLC, Hi Tech Imports LLC, and Hi Tech Luxury Imports LLC “violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act when it retaliated against the worker in December 2020.”
DOL’s OSHA aims “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers,” according to its website. The agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions under 25 whistleblower statutes.
In this case, the employee working for the Austin-based car dealer “requested that management notify other employees immediately of their risk of exposure” after learning that a coworker tested positive for COVID-19. After management did not act on the employee’s request, they “sent an email to all company employees about the potential hazards.” According to the news release, the employer terminated the employee less than an hour after the employee sent the email.
“OSHA found the employee exercised their legal rights under section 11(c) of the OSH Act, and that the termination was illegal,” the news release states. The DOL filed its lawsuit against the employer in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. DOL’s lawsuit “seeks reinstatement, lost wages and benefits resulting from the termination, reimbursement for costs and expenses, compensatory damages, and exemplary or punitive damages.”
“No worker should ever fear losing their job for raising workplace safety and health concerns,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “OSHA’s investigation and U.S. Department of Labor’s action in this case show we will enforce these protections vigorously.”
“This employee acted out of real concern for their safety and that of their coworkers, and their actions are protected under federal law,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor John Rainwater in Dallas. “The law also protects whistleblowers from retaliation by their employer and holds employers accountable when they do.”
At the end of the news release, an editor’s note reminds readers that the DOL “does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.”
Whistleblowers are vital in reporting safety concerns in the workplace. In the 2020 fiscal year, OSHA documented that it received 3448 whistleblower docketed cases, which was an increase from the previous fiscal year.