OSHA Whistleblower | Unsafe Work Environment Complaints
Although there are multiple federal and state laws protecting the rights of whistleblowers, there is a section of California’s labor code that specifically protects a whistleblower’s right to complain about unsafe working environments. The same law protects people who report workplace violations to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA). Whistleblower laws prohibit employer retaliation if an employee points out safety violations. This page was designed to offer some general information about osha whistleblower protection and help people decide whether or not to hire a lawyer. This page covers:
- Whistleblower and OSHA Basics
- osha whistleblower
- What Can I recover in an osha retaliation claim?
- Should I Consult an Attorney?
It’s important to remember that nothing contained on this page is intended as a substitute for speaking directly with a qualified attorney. Employment law is complex, and as a result, no informational webpage could possible cover all of its nuances. If you blew the whistle on unsafe conditions at your place of employment, and were retaliated against as a result, contact our office to see how we can help.
The state of California wants employees to work in safe environments. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) is a state agency charged with protecting the health and safety of workers in California. The division has jurisdiction over virtually all private employers in California.
Cal OSHA’s enforcement branch investigates complaints of workplace hazards filed by employees, their attorneys as well as reports of serious violations received from law enforcement agencies. The Division also operates what is known as a high hazard unit. This unit specifically pays attention to industries with the highest occurrence of preventable occupational injuries.
The 2016-2017 list maintained by OSHA detailing high hazard industries includes: residential construction, framing contractors, steel product manufacturing, ground passenger transportation, couriers and messengers, nursing and residential care facilities workers, as well as skiing facilities.
Continue reading to learn more about California labor code 6310, and who qualifies as an osha whistleblower.
OSHA Whistleblower Basics
In simple terms, a whistleblower is a worker who calls attention to violations of law in the workplace. Common whistleblower cases involve patient safety, healthcare fraud, tax fraud, and falsification of accounting information for publicly traded companies. While there are a number of different laws that protect whistleblower activities, this page is primarily concerned with osha and workplace safety whistleblower cases.
California labor code 6310 prohibits employers from discriminating or firing a worker for engaging in any number of specific activities. Such activities include complaining orally or in writing about employee safety or health to the occupational safety and health administration.
In addition, labor code 6310 prohibits an employer from firing a worker who “participated in a occupational health and safety committee.”
The labor code § 6310 also states that an employer who refuses to rehire an employee after discharging them for engaging in osha whistleblower activity is guilty of a misdemeanor.
A hypothetical osha retaliation case involving a mining worker could occur as follows:
Employee A. works for a large mining operation and has worked multiple shifts in recent weeks in which several small tunnel fires have broken out. Though no one is injured in any of these instances, there are concerns about the safety equipment used to extinguish tunnel fires, as well as malfunctioning equipment causing the fires.
Employee A. believes that it is only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.
Management instructs employees to keep news of the fire secret while a solution is figured out. Employee A. notifies his immediate supervisor of his intention to complain to Cal OSHA. Shortly after filing a complaint, Employee A is notified that there will be job cuts at the mine and that his position is being eliminated. He believes the reason given for his termination is merely pretext, and that he is in fact experiencing retaliation for blowing the whistle on the mine’s unsafe operating practices.
An employee involved in a whistleblower osha case such as this might be entitled to recover damages with the help of a good lawyer. Continue reading to learn more about labor code § 6310 as well as what a person can recover through an OSHA retaliation claim.
What Can I Recover?
Predicting what a person can win in a whistleblower OSHA claim is a very difficult question to answer with any accuracy. Many OSHA retaliation claims settle before going in front of a jury. Because settlements are subject to confidentiality rules, little data exists.
When considering cases that go in front of a judge or jury, it is impossible to predict how a person or group of persons will rule on any given case. Two different juries might review the same set of facts and come to completely different conclusions. While a whistleblower shouldn’t file a lawsuit expecting to recover a specific figure, California labor code 6310(b) allows for multiple remedies. These include reinstatement of the original job, as well as recovery of lost wages and benefits.
A hypothetical situation demonstrating a settlement might involve an employee who made an annual salary of $50,000 per year. After being terminated for engaging in whistleblowing activities, the worker was unable to find a job for three years. If the worker wins his osha retaliation claim, he could potentially recover $150,000 in lost wages. In addition to recovering lost wages, a successful whistleblower might be able to recover damages resulting from emotional distress such as depression, anxiety and sleeplessness.
In some instances, the whistleblower might be able to recover punitive damages designed to keep the employer from ever engaging in the retaliatory activity again. However, in order to do this, your lawyer must prove that the employer acted with malice, oppression or fraud. Because this is difficult to do, punitive damages are rare.
How Much Does an Employment Lawyer Cost?
An attorney who files a whistleblower osha suit is typically paid on contingency. This means the client pays no money out-of-pocket, and the attorney is paid a portion of the award when the case settles. The attorney also fronts the costs of the case for you (in most circumstances).
What is the Statute of Limitations on OSHA whistleblower case?
The statute of limitations on an osha retaliation claim can vary depending on different circumstances. However, the Code of Civil Procedures §338(a) states a whistleblower osha suit be filed within three years of the retaliatory act.
Regardless of what the law allows, a whistleblower shouldn’t hesitate to contact an attorney if he or she has experienced workplace retaliation. There are a number of steps your attorney will need to take before filing a complaint, and it’s important to remember the clock is ticking. Once the statute of limitations runs out, your case could be lost forever.
Should I Consult an Attorney?
If you believe you have been the victim of harassment or were terminated because you engaged in whistleblower activities, contact our office to discuss your case with one of our lawyers. You could qualify to file a case and obtain monetary compensation for your damages. There is usually no charge to discuss the basics of your case with the Bohm Law Group staff. The sooner you contact our outstanding legal team, the sooner you’ll find out how we can help.