Dec. 1, 2015
Bronx hair salon must pay $165K to fired employee
who warned co-workers of formaldehyde hazards
Settlement requires Salon Zoe, owner to take additional corrective actions
NEW YORK - A receptionist fired illegally at a Bronx hair salon in June 2012 for telling her colleagues about the hazards of a formaldehyde-containing straightener the salon used will be compensated for unlawful retaliation, and her former employer will take corrective action, according to a federal consent judgment obtained by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The judgment orders the defendants to pay the former employee $65,000 in lost wages and $100,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. It also requires Salon Zoe to expunge the employee's personnel records of all references to this matter and her termination and, upon request, provide a written, neutral job reference.
A whistleblower investigation by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Salon Zoe and its owner, Kristina Veljovic, illegally discharged the receptionist days after she gave her colleagues an OSHA fact sheet* about formaldehyde hazards. The department filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in February 2015 after attempts to settle the matter voluntarily did not succeed.
"This worker's experience was unwarranted and unnerving. She lost her job for simply exercising her legally protected right to voice concerns about health and safety in her workplace," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. "Employers and employees should take note of this case and its outcome."
"There's a simple message here: Don't fire, discriminate or retaliate against your employees when they raise legitimate health and safety issues; there will be consequences," said Jeffrey S. Rogoff, the regional solicitor of labor in New York. "The department will pursue appropriate legal actions, including lawsuits, to ensure that workers' rights are protected."
To prevent future violations, the judgment prohibits the defendants from doing the following:
- Firing or discriminating against employees who file OSHA complaints
- Blacklisting, demoting, threatening, suspending, harassing or intimidating employees who report workplace injuries and illnesses
- Advising employees against exercising their whistleblower rights, including contacting, speaking with, or cooperating with OSHA investigators
Additionally, the defendants must inform employees of their whistleblower rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. These measures will include permanently posting an OSHA poster* in a prominent spot in the workplace, distributing an OSHA whistleblower fact sheet* to current employees and new hires and certifying that employees have received this information.
Within 21 days, the defendants must allow a department representative to enter the salon during work hours to read to the employees and to Veljovic, who must be present, this statement of workplace whistleblower rights:
"You are protected by Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and have the right to complain to the U.S. Department of Labor without fear of retaliation or intimidation. You have the right to complain to your co-workers, employer, or the Department of Labor about health or safety issues in your workplace. You have the right to speak freely with investigators or other officials from the Department of Labor.
"Your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you in any way, including by terminating you, disciplining you, inflicting physical harm on you, or threatening to do any of these things because you spoke with the Department of Labor. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has entered a consent judgment that confirms that Salon Zoe and Kristina Veljovic may not retaliate against you in any way for complaining about health and safety issues in the workplace or for cooperating with the Department of Labor.
"If you believe that you have experienced retaliation, or if you want to complain about a health or safety concern in your workplace, you can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Tarrytown Area Office at 914-524-7510."
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 21 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, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://whisleblowers.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.
Perez v. 492 & 494 West 238 St. Haircutters Inc., doing business as Salon ZoÃ«, and Kristina Veljovic Civil Action Number: 15-cv-1358
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
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Ted Fitzgerald, 617-565-2075, email@example.com
Release Number: 15-2287-NEW
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