It’s not unheard of that a company, faced with a potential workers’ compensation claim, will attempt to suppress that claim by discouraging the worker from reporting it.
Not only is this unethical, it’s illegal. Our Greensboro workers’ compensation attorneys are staunch advocates for workers’ rights, and we believe it’s imperative that employees be informed about what to do if they’re hurt on the job and how to respond to suppression tactics or retaliation.
A good example of this arose recently in Ohio, where the Occupational Health & Safety Administration alleges in a recently filed lawsuit that a phone company initiated more than a dozen unpaid suspensions in the course of two years to worker who reported on-the-job injuries. This kind of retaliatory action not only impacts the 13 workers directly involved, but it sends a clear message to anyone else thinking of filing a workers’ compensation claim: Beware.
The Case, Perez v. The Ohio Bell Telephone Company, has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
According to the complaint, there were 13 separate incidents in which the telecommunications company disciplined worker who had reported on-the-job injuries. In each case, workers were given unpaid suspensions that ranged from one-to-three days. In doling out these suspensions, the company reportedly told workers that their actions violated corporate workplace safety standards.
But when OSHA dug a little deeper, it became clear that the suspensions didn’t stem from workers failing to use proper safety precautions, but rather from them reporting their injuries – something that cumulatively raised the company’s workers’ compensation costs.
For an employee, reporting a work injury or illness is a core right, and retaliating against a worker for doing this is a form of illegal discrimination.
OSHA alleges that the employer’s actions in this case violate federal whistleblower statutes. Per this law, employers are barred from retaliating against workers who raise concerns or provide information to their employer or to the government regarding workplace safety or injuries.
For its part, the company has denied the allegations.
Companies are required to report to the government any work-related injuries or illnesses that result in death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted activity or job transfer or medical treatment beyond first aid.
There are many ways in which employer policies for reporting work injuries could be illegal.
One, as mentioned above, involves disciplining workers for violating safety rules. Often, these include violations for vague rules such as “failing to maintain situational awareness” or “failing to work carefully.”
Another involves safety incentive programs. For example, if workers are disqualified from prizes and awards because of injuries or illnesses reported, it creates an incentive not to report injuries or illnesses. This is likely illegal.
A third type of policy we see is when a company will discipline a worker for “untimely” reporting of injuries, or in failing to report injuries or illnesses in the exact way in which the employer requires. While it’s important that the worker reports a job-related injury right away, there are cases in which a worker may not realize right away that an illness or injury has occurred or that it’s serious enough to report. Yet employers will discipline them when they do come forward. In other cases, the internal procedures for reporting may be unnecessarily burdensome, and violations could carry unjustifiably harsh punishments.
Finally, there is injury discipline. This is when employers discipline workers solely for reporting injuries at work, regardless of circumstances. This practice is fairly blatant, and most employers will try to be more subtle in their approach.
If you have been injured at work in Greensboro, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Suspension of 13 AT&T workers prompts lawsuit by US Labor Department, Feb. 10, 2014, Press Release, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Adminis tion
More Blog Entries
NC Work Injuries Decline, Still Too Many Employees Hurt on the Job, Feb. 5, 2014, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog