OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH: Employee Whistleblower Protection in Florida

In 1970, the federal government passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) for the purpose of assuring “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.” This was to be accomplished by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act, by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions, and by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health. At the time, Congress determined that “personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden on and hindrance to interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments.” The full Act can be found at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=OSHACT&p_id=2743.

Although the original OSHA was federal law, many states have enacted their own similar OSHA type laws that will take precedence over the federal laws in this area. Florida operates under the federal OSHA, but if another state is your concern, you can find contact information for states with their own plans at https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/states_contact.html.

One part of OSHA concerns protection for whistleblowers. The government recognized the importance of employees involved in the day to day operations of a company being able to come forward to report working conditions jeopardizing the safety of employees without fear of retaliation. Retaliatory acts by employers include cutting pay or benefits, transferring employees to less desirable positions or even firing of employee that reports violations of OSHA.

Because the federal OSHA applies in Florida, it was the U.S. Department of Labor that in December of 2016 filed a lawsuit against a Tampa roofing company and its owner for terminating their safety manager after he cooperated with a safety and health inspection by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The safety manager had provided documentation to the OSHA investigation team regarding the company’s lack of safety compliance and his attempts to improve the safety culture of the company. The lawsuit alleges the company, in response, conducted retaliatory acts that ultimately resulted in the termination of the safety manager’s position in violation of Section (11)(c) of OSHA. (https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=33636)

If you believe your employer retaliated against you because you exercised a legal right to report unsafe conditions, contact OSHA as soon as possible. here are time limits within which to report the violations you witnessed. The whistleblower complaint process and form can be found at https://www.osha.gov/whistleblower/WBComplaint.html and your rights as a whistleblower are detailed at https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/whistleblower_rights.pdf.

While most employers have immunity from simple negligence leading to injury, you should always have an attorney review the facts of your work comp case to see if there is an extreme safety violation, or if a third party is responsible for your injury. If you have questions about your work injury, contact Syfrett, Dykes & Furr at (850) 795-49792 for a free consultation.

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