A Florida worker whose employer fired him for complaining about workplace rodents and rodent droppings has been vindicated in a lawsuit filed on his behalf by the U.S. Department of Labor. A judge upheld employee rights to complain about unsafe or unhealthy workplace conditions, and not to be fired in retaliation for being a whistleblower.
The lawsuit targeted the owners of Aquatech Technologies Inc., which the employee worked for. It resulted in the judge issuing an injunction against the defendants engaging in any further violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which outlaws such retaliation. The former employee was also awarded $27,072 in lost back wages, $6,700 in expenses, and $414 in interest, for a total award of $34,186.
After the employee told the company about seeing rodents infesting the office and finding rodent droppings lying around, the employer took some steps, such as placing a few traps. This, however, did not really remedy the situation. When the employee continued to complain, the employer then took the position that no such problem existed.
Frustrated with this inaction, the employee then filed a complaint with OSHA. As soon as OSHA told the employer that it was in receipt of the complaint, the employee was shown the door without warning.
That prompted the fired worker to pursue a claim as a whistleblower through OSHA, resulting in an investigation which found merit to the claim, and the subsequent lawsuit. The result shows that employees who stand up for the right of themselves and their co-workers to have a safe and healthy workplace have some protection against employers who want them to continue to work in filthy or dangerous conditions in violation of the law.
Source: WorkersCompensation.com, “OSHA wins lawsuit against employer for firing whistleblower who complained of rodents,” Oct. 11, 2012.
A federal judge in a southern Florida court ruled last week that a Florida company illegally retaliated against one if its employees by firing him after he complained about an infestation of rodents at a company facility in Stuart, Florida. The lawsuit to vindicate employee rights was filed by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The man worked for a canvas products manufacturing company called Aquatech Technologies, which is owned by LOTO Services, LLC. The court found that the firing violated the employee’s rights against retaliation for complaining about workplace safety or health under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The judge awarded the employee $34,186, including $27,072 in lost back wages, $6,700 in expenses, and $414 in interest.
When the employee first complained about rodent droppings in a company office, traps were deployed, but the infestation remained. When the employee repeated his complaint, the employer denied that the problem existed. As a result, the employee notified the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about the threat to workplace health and safety. When OSHA notified the company about the complaint, the employee was fired.
OSHA enforces federal laws protecting employees who report workplace health and safety rules and other federal regulations. Employers have a mandatory legal duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace consistent with OSHA standards. When these standards are violated or an employee is fired or disciplined for reporting violations, OSHA investigates and takes necessary enforcement actions.
In this case, OSHA’s investigation determined that the employee’s firing was retaliatory and would not have happened absent the employee’s reporting of the workplace rodent problem. It then filed the lawsuit on behalf of the ex-employee.
Source: OSHA Regional News Release, “US Department of Labor wins lawsuit against Aquatech Technologies owners for firing whistleblower who complained about rodents at Stuart, Fla., plant Judge finds canvas manufacturer violated OSH Act by retaliating against employee,” Oct. 10, 2012.