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Employer compensates fired manager after OSHA whistleblower probe

Employer compensates fired manager after OSHA whistleblower probe

A Pennsylvania masonry company has agreed to pay $135,000 to a terminated plant manager who reported air quality and other safety and health hazards. 

The plant manager was fired less than two weeks after being hired after repeatedly reporting safety and health issues to upper management at York, Pennsylvania-based York Building Products’ Middletown plant, according to a Monday statement by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which had conducted a whistleblower investigation. 

The company entered into a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor in which it agreed to pay a total of $135,000 in back wages and compensatory damages to the terminated manager to resolve the whistleblower investigation, which found the company violated the anti-discrimination provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act when it terminated the former plant manager. 

The manager had identified several safety and health problems at the plant, including excessive respirable dust, worker exposure to noxious chemicals caused by equipment overspray, lack of personal protective equipment for workers and broken tools and equipment, according to OSHA. 

The plant manager also received multiple complaints from plant employees about safety and health conditions and brought these concerns to the attention of the plant operations manager on a daily basis. In one situation, a plant worker complained of illness, blaming excessive respirable dust as the cause. The plant manager alerted the operations manager and requested that air quality testing be performed. The operations manager denied the request, as well as the existence of air quality problems, and then terminated the plant manager.

“Employers should act promptly and positively when they receive safety complaints from employees,” Oscar Hampton, the department’s regional solicitor in Philadelphia, said in the statement. “In this instance, the employer did not, and they are paying the price. This settlement agreement makes the complainant whole for his wrongful termination and has a ripple effect that will act as a deterrent for other employers.”

The company was separately fined $38,880 after OSHA inspectors identified 38 violations during an October 2014 inspection launched after the terminated manager filed complaints about the safety and health hazards at the plant and the alleged retaliation for reporting those hazards. Air samplings collected in the investigation showed that certain plant employees had been exposed to silica dust at amounts up to 14 times greater than permissible exposure limits, according to OSHA. 

In addition to paying the back wages and damages, York Building Products — a subsidiary of York, Pennsylvania-based The Stewart Cos. — must provide supervisors with anti-retaliation training at the location where the terminated employee worked and post the OSHA poster entitled "Job Safety and Health, It's The Law."

York Building Products said in an emailed statement that it has devoted countless hours toward maintaining a healthy and safe working environment and has always encouraged employees to report health and safety concerns immediately.

“During this process, we’ve fully cooperated with the Department of Labor because we did nothing wrong,” the company said. “At no time did we receive any complaints from an employee or we would have acted immediately. Our reputation is important to us, but we also recognize reality: we simply do not have unlimited litigation resources like the federal government. For that reason alone, we’ve made the difficult decision to end this battle and return our attention to our employees and the high-quality products we provide to our dedicated customers.” 







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