OSHA orders whistleblower reinstated
Company accused employee of sabotaging water supply
OSHA has ordered Anchorage-based North Star Behavioral Health System to reinstate an employee who was fired after reporting safety concerns about compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act at the company's residential youth facility outside of Anchorage.
An investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program found that the termination violated the whistleblower provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The employee had reported concerns about safe drinking water and a lack of appropriate licensing for a North Star manager, who for several months held certain regulatory responsibilities regarding the facility's drinking water system. In retaliation for reporting the safety concerns to state agencies, the employer disciplined the complainant, ordered him to refrain from future contact with regulatory agencies and then fired him for allegedly sabotaging the facility's water supply. OSHA's investigation determined that the evidence did not support the employer's reasons for disciplining the employee or the allegations of sabotage. Files reviewed during the investigation showed a history of outstanding performance by the complainant prior to his engaging in protected activity.
OSHA's order requires that North Star immediately reinstate the whistleblower to his former position and pay him nearly $60,000 in back wages. The order also requires North Star to pay $75,000 in emotional distress damages, $100,000 in punitive damages, $2,018 in compensatory damages and approximately $35,600 in attorney fees. North Star also must post OSHA's whistleblower protection fact sheet at the facility.