In its suit, OSHA said the receptionist at Salon Zoë hair salon began to experience respiratory distress in December 2011, including difficulty breathing and an impaired sense of smell. She sought medical attention on multiple occasions over the next several months.
On June 27, 2012, she informed fellow employees of the presence of formaldehyde in the salon's products and provided several co-workers with copies of an OSHA fact sheet* detailing the dangers of formaldehyde exposure. Two days later, salon owner Kristina Veljovic terminated her employment.
Doctor confirmed cause
In July 2012, a physician confirmed that the worker's respiratory distress resulted from her formaldehyde exposure at work. She subsequently filed an antidiscrimination complaint with OSHA, which investigated and found merit to her complaint. As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor is suing the salon and Veljovic for discrimination under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
"This firing was illegal and inexcusable," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. "It's against the law to fire or otherwise retaliate against an employee for informing colleagues about possible health hazards in their place of employment. Such behavior not only intimidates workers, it also can deny them access to knowledge that will protect them against workplace hazards."
What the lawsuit seeks
The department's lawsuit asks the court to affirm the discrimination charge and permanently prohibit the defendants from illegally retaliating against employees in the future. It also seeks payment of lost wages as well as compensatory, punitive and emotional distress damages to the employee, an offer of reinstatement with full benefits and seniority and the removal of all references to the matter in the worker's employment records. It would also require the employer to prominently post a notice that she will not discriminate against employees.
In a related action, OSHA's Tarrytown Area Office conducted an inspection of Salon Zoë and cited the company in December 2012 for lack of a chemical hazard communication program and for not providing the salon's employees with information and training on formaldehyde and other hazardous chemicals.