Archive for the ‘OSHA’ Category

Employees walk by them almost everyday and seemingly pay no attention, but they should. They spell out their rights and obligations under national and state employment laws. What are they?

State and federal laws impose numerous requirements and prohibitions on American businesses, but one of the most overlooked obligations for employers is the responsibility to conspicuously post various government labor law notices in the workplace. The purpose of these labor law posters is to inform employees of their rights under applicable laws and provide information on how to report discrimination, wage and hour violations and other rights infringements to the government.

While many employers do not readily embrace the idea of conspicuously posting information that tells their employees how to bring legal action against them, the obligation to display these notices is explicit in various labor laws and government regulations. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), for example, includes a provision requiring all covered employers to display the federal minimum wage poster in an area frequented by employees. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations specifically require employers to post a federal safety and health poster or a state equivalent. Failure to comply with government labor law posting requirements could lead to citations and fines during an inspection. Fines vary by poster and by enforcing agency, ranging from as low as $110 up to a potential maximum of $10,000. In total, businesses that don’t post these required notices or post outdated information could face combined fines up to $17,000 per location.

Posting the required information in a back room that employees never enter is not enough to ensure compliance. Government regulations specifically require that the information be displayed in an area frequented by employees during the normal course of the workday. For many companies, that means posting the mandatory notices next to employee time clocks or in lunch areas.

Additionally, some posters must also be displayed in lobbies or applicant areas, as they describe laws that protect job applicants from unlawful discrimination or harassment. One example is the federal “Equal Employment Opportunity Is the Law” Notice, published by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

If your employer does not post posters at your workplace relating to your rights under EEOC laws, OSHA and the Fair Labor Standards Act, then you need to either let them know or report the violation to the EEOC or U.S. Department of Labor. If they continue to fail to comply, enlist the assistance of an employment lawyer.

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For those of you who have been following my blog, you are all aware of some of the types of whistleblower actions that I have blogged about. Not only do many states have their own whistleblower laws, but many federal statutes also have whistleblowing provisions such as with OSHA and the various health care statutes. I have also blogged about qui tam actions where you whistleblow upon an employer when it is ripping off the federal government or state government.

It is important to whistleblow. I have represented employees who reported redating meats at a grocery store meat department and were fired in response. I have represented employees who reported filling premium brand liquor bottles with call brand liquors. I even represented mortgage brokers who complained about shoddy underwriting practices at a major lender before the financial mortgage collapse (he was fired for his complaints). All of these types of actions are either a danger to the public or at a minimum a fraud upon the public and should not be tolerated. And remember, if you do complain about the illegal actions of your employer it is illegal for them to retaliate against you or fire you for your actions.

In fact, had employees whistleblowed about BP and the Deepwater Horizon, maybe this country would not be suffering from this environmental disaster. Currently, several whistleblowers have come forward on other matters of interest related to BP (including another Gulf well) and have said they have suffered retaliation for doing so. Related to Deepwater Horizon: “The rig survivors … said it was always understood that you could get fired if you raised safety concerns that might delay drilling. Some co-workers had been fired for speaking out, they said.”

In his testimony before Congress last week, Tony Hayward said that why no one spoke up would be the important question to be answered by BP’s ongoing investigations. Congressman Henry Waxman in the hearing said operating in deep water is like operating in space. The very nature of oil rig deepwater drilling — and space travel — with their inherent risks, make it imperative that action be taken to ensure that in future, safety indeed comes first. Congressman Waxman was analogizing the BP incident to the Challenger space shuttle explosion.

So if you have concerns about illegal activities engaged in by your employer, speak with an employment law attorney to consider your next course of action.

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A federal jury in Hartford, Connecticut, recently awarded $1.37 million in damages to a former Pfizer scientist who alleged that she was fired for raising safety concerns. This just shows the types of awards that are being given to employee whistleblowers who blow the whistle on violations of laws by their employer and have their job terminated in response.

Under Florida law, and in most states there exists a whistleblower law. For instance in Florida it is illegal to retaliate or terminate an employee for complaining about the employer’s violations of a law, rule, or regulation of state or Federal law. So if you complain about a violation of law, it is not only illegal for your employer to fire you, but they also can’t retaliate against you by reducing your hours, salary, working conditions, etc. For instance, my law firm has in the past represented an employee of Publix who complained about its failure to follow safety precautions in its meat department, an employee of Suntrust Mortgage who complained about illegalities in origination of mortgages, and employees of doctors offices who have submitted false medicare claims.

In addition to the whistleblower laws available under state laws, many Federal laws provide remedies to an employee for whistleblowing. For instance, if you complain to OSHA (The Occupational Health and Safety Administration) about safety issues, that statue has its own protections for whistleblowers. Also there are protections under the Federal Sarbanes Oxley statute as well as many other statutes such as major federal environmental laws (Clean Air, Toxic Substances, Clean Water, Atomic Energy, Solid Waste, Safe Drinking Water, and Superfund) each have special provisions protecting corporate whistleblowers. There are also protections under the Federal False Claims Act which relates to issues such as false or fraudulent claims being submitted to Medicare.

So the bottom line is if you think that you have blown the whistle on your employer and have been terminated or retaliated against you should speak with legal counsel about the issues.

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