May 17, 2016
OSHA orders Polar Service Centers to pay $190K in back wages, damages
to safety manager demoted for reporting potential DOT violation
Whistleblower punished for reporting suspected uncertified hazardous material inspections
LANSING, Ill. - The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Polar Service Centers to reinstate and pay $190,547 in back wages and damages to a safety manager at its Lansing facility. The action comes after a federal investigation found the commercial tank trailer company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.
The department found the company demoted, censured and ultimately forced the manager to resign after he reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation that he suspected a Polar customer was improperly certifying trailers to haul hazardous waste, a potential and dangerous safety violation.
"Censuring a worker for complying with the law clearly violates the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. This act is designed to protect the safety of the motoring public," said Ken Nishiyama Atha, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago. "This employee did the right thing to protect others and was punished for it. OSHA is committed to protecting the rights of America's workers to refuse unsafe and unlawful orders from their employer."
On Sept. 12, 2013, Polar Service Centers suspended the service manager indefinitely, and later demoted and barred him from talking to customers or the Department of Transportation in reprisal for reporting a potential safety violation of a Polar customer's suspected improper certification of tank trailers to haul hazardous waste. The manager had also requested that a driver of the Polar customer provide information concerning the potential safety violation to DOT. After the suspension, demotion and censure, he was forced to resign from his employment.
OSHA has ordered Polar Service Centers to reinstate the manager to his position, pay $88,847 in back wages minus applicable employment taxes, $100,000 in punitive damages and $1,700 in compensatory damages as well as reasonable attorney fees.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Both parties have 30 days from the receipt of OSHA's findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
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 that 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. More information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
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Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
Release Number: 16-547-CHI
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