On August 9, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it had obtained a judgment in federal court requiring a dentist based in Peoria, IL to pay $20,000 in back pay to a fired whistleblower. The ruling is the result of a whistleblower investigation by the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Whistleblower Program.
According to OSHA, the fired whistleblower was a dental assistant “who complained about the risk of coronavirus infection, refused a work assignment they believed to be a risk for contracting coronavirus, and discussed workplace safety issues with coworkers.”
An investigation by OSHA found that Dr. Al-Dadah, after learning that an employee had filed a safety complaint with OSHA in March 2020, sought to identify the whistleblower and then fired the dental assistant, who had been an employee for over twenty years.
The dental assistant subsequently filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with OSHA. After an OSHA whistleblower investigation found that Dr. Al-Dadah had violated the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the department’s Office of the Solicitor in Chicago filed suit in April 2022.
The judge’s order “requires Dr. Monzer K. Al-Dadah LLC and Dr. Al-Dadah to pay the former dental assistant back wages, provide a neutral employment recommendation and remove any references from employment records relating to the reason for their separation,” according to OSHA.
“Employees must be able to exercise their legal rights regarding workplace safety freely and without fear of retaliation by their employer,” explained OSHA Assistant Regional Administrator Denise Keller in Chicago. “The outcome in this case reflects the Department of Labor’s commitment to protect workers’ rights.”
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower protections of over 20 different federal laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act. On July 26, in celebration of National Whistleblower Day, the DOL posted a blog entitled “Why Whistleblowers Matter.”
“As important as whistleblowers are, they are only effective if they are protected from retaliation,” the blog states. “The Department of Labor enforces whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws. Under federal law, workers have the right to raise concerns if they believe their rights are being violated in the workplace. ”
“The department is committed to protecting those who step forward to report their experiences in workplaces that they believe to be unsafe or illegal,” the blog continues. “Workers have the right to speak up about their work experience without fear of retaliation. Employers have the responsibility to ensure workers know that right.”