US Labor Department's OSHA orders reinstatement of whistleblower
Investigation found Anchorage, Alaska-based youth treatment provider
retaliated against employee who voiced water quality concerns
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Anchorage-based North Star Behavioral Health System to reinstate an employee who was fired after reporting safety concerns about compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act at the company's residential youth facility outside of Anchorage.
An investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program found that the termination violated the whistleblower provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The employee had reported concerns about safe drinking water and a lack of appropriate licensing for a North Star manager, who for several months held certain regulatory responsibilities regarding the facility's drinking water system. In retaliation for reporting the safety concerns to state agencies, the employer disciplined the complainant, ordered him to refrain from future contact with regulatory agencies and then fired him for allegedly sabotaging the facility's water supply. OSHA's investigation determined that the evidence did not support the employer's reasons for disciplining the employee or the allegations of sabotage. Files reviewed during the investigation showed a history of outstanding performance by the complainant prior to his engaging in protected activity.
OSHA's order requires that North Star immediately reinstate the whistleblower to his former position and pay him nearly $60,000 in back wages. The order also requires North Star to pay $75,000 in emotional distress damages, $100,000 in punitive damages, $2,018 in compensatory damages and approximately $35,600 in attorney fees. North Star also must post OSHA's whistleblower protection fact sheet at the facility.
"Workers have the right to voice safety concerns without fear of retaliation or termination," said Dean Ikeda, OSHA's regional administrator in Seattle. "Employers found in violation of whistleblower protection provisions will be held accountable."
North Star Behavioral Health System and the complainant each have 30 days from receipt of the findings to file an appeal with the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the SDWA and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employer whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille or CD from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.