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Employee rights for reporting workplace safety concerns

On Behalf of | Jan 18, 2023 | Employment Law

There are some inherent risks that workers face in certain occupations. While it may not be feasible to eliminate the risks that come with these jobs completely, workers should still have protection against avoidable or unnecessarily dangerous conditions. 

This protection includes the right to report workplace hazards without being punished. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. 

Complaints lead to retaliation

For instance, American Airlines was recently penalized for retaliating against workers who complained about jet fuel fumes entering aircraft cabins.

These jet engine emissions can be dangerous and cause serious health problems. Depending on the type and length of exposure, a person could experience:

  • Lung and respiratory issues
  • Skin irritation
  • Liver damage
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Decreased neurological function 

Understandably, flight attendants were concerned about the toxic fumes seeping into airplane cabins and reporting related illnesses.

The response from American only made the situation worse. The company reportedly docked attendance points for the complaining workers and discouraged them from reporting exposure concerns.

Federal officials found these actions were retaliatory. Retaliation refers to an employer’s adverse actions against employees for engaging in protected activity, including filing a complaint about workplace safety.

Because the company penalized the workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a $6,837 fine. 

Other consequences of retaliation

Retaliation can trigger fines like this; it can also lead to legal action from employees subjected to unfair treatment. Employees who feel like their employer fired them illegally can file a lawsuit seeking financial damages. These remedies can cover the following:

  • Lost wages
  • Emotional distress
  • Legal fees and expenses
  • Other damages associated with the misconduct

Depending on the details of a case, these damages can be significant.

With this in mind, employees should know how crucial it can be to hold employers who retaliate against them responsible. It is also essential for employers to recognize that they can mitigate these financial losses and legal complications by avoiding retaliatory actions.

If questions arise about whether an action is illegal, talking to an attorney to sort things out as soon as possible can help prevent legal and professional conflicts.

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