When a Hartford health care facility failed to adequately respond to a tuberculosis exposure in December 2011, its interim senior vice-president for operations, director of nursing and its coordinator of its Healthy Start program actively tried or were associated with efforts to raise awareness among fellow employees, management and the public about the potential dangers. Among other things, they cooperated with public and workplace health agencies that investigated.

Fired because of it

Two months later – on Feb. 24, 2012 – Charter Oak Health Center and its then-chief executive officer, Alfreda D. Turner, terminated the three employees. A subsequent whistleblower investigation by OSHA found that the terminations were unwarranted as the employees’ actions were protected under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The department, the center and Turner have now agreed to a settlement, and a federal court consent judgment and order that provides the center and Turner will compensate the three former employees for lost wages and take other corrective action.

A legal right

“It’s critical to workplace safety and health that employee voices not be stifled” said Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.

Added Michael Felsen, the department’s New England regional solicitor, “We  remind companies that employees have a legal right to raise health and safety concerns about their workplaces without fear of retaliation, and that it’s in the interest of everyone to address those concerns.”

Terms of the settlement

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, the consent judgment stipulates corrective actions, including payment of lost wages of $85,000, $30,000, and $10,000, less taxes, for the three workers, neutral letters of reference, and worksite posting and individual notifications to employees about their rights as a whistleblower.

The whistleblower investigation was conducted by OSHA’s regional Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs in Boston. Trial attorney Mark A. Pedulla of the department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston provided legal services for OSHA. The department’s complaint, defendants’ answers and consent judgment were filed between June 12 and 14, 2017. The court signed the consent judgment on June 16, 2017.

Protecting whistleblowers

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide workplace health and safety information to the employer or to the government. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor to request an investigation by the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.