Worker was fired for his bad attitude: Why's OSHA involved?
What would you do in this situation? An employee comes to you with a safety complaint. The hazard the employee brings up is legitimate, but he goes about the complaint all wrong. He's disrespectful and disruptive to the point where some managers might consider firing him. Where would you draw the line? Was the employee a whistleblower?
That's the situation involving one worker who was considered too disruptive when he brought up hazards and was fired.
The unnamed worker complained several times about an unsafe crane lift that was endangering workers. Eventually MMR Contractors, based in Baton Rouge, LA, and general contractor Fluor Corp., of Greenville, SC, decided to let the worker go for disruptive behavior.
The worker said he was fired for bringing up safety concerns, and OSHA agreed. The companies backed down and came to a settlement with the worker. Under that settlement the employers must:
• pay $17,500 in back wages
• remove any reference to the termination from his personnel file
• provide neutral employment references, and
• agree not to unlawfully retaliate against other employees
Why did the companies agree to the settlement? OSHA said the employee's behavior fell under the "leeway doctrine" of the OSHA Act. That doctrine gives employees some leeway in how they bring up safety issues. Basically, it says workers have a right to be a little PO'd if they're exposed to unchecked hazards. But it doesn't give workers a blank check to fly off the handle just because a safety issue is involved. Workers still need to be respectful.
In another recent whistleblower case, a worker said he was fired in retaliation for bringing up safety concerns. In that case, the company won because the worker was hostile and rude to several workers and managers, not just the safety manager. Bottom line: With any safety concern an employee has, the hazard should be addressed first. Then, if the worker's tone was rude, tackle those issues separately.
Reprinted with permission from:
Safety Compliance Alert 2/23/11
Posted on Wed, March 9, 2011
by Kim Bowman