June 8, 2023
US Department of Labor orders South Dakota helicopter ambulance service to reinstate mechanic who reported safety concerns, filed FAA complaint
Avera Careflight also ordered to pay mechanic $55K in back wages, damages
SIOUX FALLS, SD – A federal whistleblower investigation found a South Dakota-based helicopter ambulance servicer retaliated against a mechanic who reported safety concerns and filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration examined the mechanic's complaint against Avera Careflight in Sioux Falls – a division of Avera McKennan – after the company terminated their employment. OSHA found that the company's actions violated the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, and ordered them to reinstate the mechanic. In addition, OSHA directed Avera Careflight to pay the employee more than $30,600 in back wages and $25,000 in damages and to remove negative reports from their personnel record.
OSHA's investigation found the Aberdeen-based mechanic reported concerns with the safety of a helicopter on July 21, 2022, and continued to discuss safety matters with their supervisor and the manufacturer's national technical representative over the period of several months. During that time, the mechanic's supervisor reprimanded them repeatedly for raising concerns and speaking to technical representatives. Believing the issues was unresolved, the mechanic filed an FAA complaint on Sept. 2, 2022 and the company terminated them on Sept. 29, 2022.
Federal law protects employees who refuse to perform work assignments when they reasonably believe these assignments would cause them to violate aviation safety regulations.
"Employees must be able to freely exercise their legal rights regarding workplace safety without fear of retaliation by their employer," explained OSHA Regional Administrator Jennifer S. Rous in Denver. "The outcome of this investigation and the action on the mechanic's behalf underscores the department's commitment to protecting workers' rights."
The company and the former employee may file objections or request a hearing with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receiving the agency's order.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the AIR21 and more than 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, criminal antitrust and anti-money laundering laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
Release Number: 23-854-DAK