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U.S. Steel sued over injury reporting policy

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The U.S. Department of Labor has sued United States Steel Corp. to reverse disciplinary actions taken against two employees for reporting workplace injuries in violation of the company's immediate-reporting policy and to force the company to amend the policy.

The two employees were suspended without pay for failing to immediately report workplace injuries, per the company's policy, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, on Feb. 17.

In February 2014, Jeff Walters, a full-time utility technician at the Pittsburgh steel manufacturer's Clairton, Pennsylvania, plant found a small splinter lodged in his thumb and extracted it himself, according to the lawsuit. The technician completed his shift without further incident, but the thumb and hand were noticeably swollen two days later, necessitating medical treatment for an infection. When Mr. Walters reported the incident to his supervisor, the company imposed a five-day suspension without pay — later reduced to two days — for violating the company's injury reporting policy, according to the lawsuit.

Later that month, John Armstrong, a full-time laborer at the company's Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, bumped his head on a low beam, feeling no pain or discomfort at the time as he was wearing a hardhat, according to the lawsuit. However, he experienced stiffness in his right shoulder and sought medical treatment several days later and was eventually suspended for five days without pay.

Both workers filed complaints with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that U.S. Steel suspended them in retaliation for reporting workplace injuries, with the agency finding the company violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in both cases. But U.S. Steel has failed to rescind its discipline of either worker in addition to refusing to alter or amend its immediate-reporting policy to allow for a reasonable period of time for employees to report worksite injuries, according to OSHA.

The lawsuit seeks to stop U.S. Steel from violating the act, direct the company to rescind and nullify its immediate-reporting policy and permanently bar U.S. Steel from enforcing a reporting policy that requires employees to report their workplace injuries or illnesses earlier than seven calendar days after the injured or ill employee becomes aware of his or her injury or illness. The lawsuit also seeks to force the company to rescind its discipline and sanction of the two employees, direct it to compensate the employees for any lost wages and benefits, including interest and compensatory damages, and post notices at all worksites for 60 days stating it will not discriminate or retaliate against employees involved in activities protected by the act.

“U.S. Steel's policy discourages employees from reporting injuries for fear of retaliation,” Richard Mendelson, OSHA's regional administrator in Philadelphia, said in a statement. “Because workers don't always recognize injuries at the time they occur, the policy provides an incentive for employees to not report injuries once they realize they should, since they are concerned that the timing of their report would violate the company's policy and result in some kind of reprimand.”

A U.S. Steel spokeswoman declined to comment.