NEW YORK – In March 2020, as COVID-19 became a global pandemic, an employee of a Staten Island community health center asked permission to allow a regularly scheduled meeting to be held by teleconference – and then changed the format of the meeting to teleconference – rather than meeting in-person in a windowless conference room. When the health center’s CEO insisted they hold the meeting in person, the employee changed the meeting format back to in-person but did not attend the meeting given their concerns about being exposed to the virus there.Two days later, the center suspended the employee for refusing to attend the meeting and for unspecified “insubordination,” and prohibited them from access to all worksites. A few weeks later, the clinic terminated the employee in April 2020 without further explanation. The former employee filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.In June 2021, the department filed suit against Community Health Center of Richmond, Inc. and CEO Henry Thompson, alleging they violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by suspending and ultimately terminating the employee for reporting a hazardous work condition, potential exposure to COVID-19 at an in-person staff meeting. Following litigation and mediation, the health center and Thompson have agreed to pay $195,000 in back wages and compensatory damages to the former employee. In addition, they will, among other things:Expunge from the employer’s employment records references to the employer’s suspension and termination of the employee.Provide a neutral reference for the employee if any prospective employer requests an employment reference or verification.Conduct a reading of rights informing employees that they are protected by Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.Post a notice for employees stating that they will not in any manner discriminate against any employee for engaging in activities protected by Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. Provide employees with annual training on their Section 11(c) rights for at least three years. “The Occupational Safety and Health Act guarantees workers the right to raise safety and health concerns to their employers without fear of retaliation, as the worker did in this case,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson in New York. “Community Health Center of Richmond Inc.’s inexcusable actions have a chilling effect on other employees coming forward with concerns about health and safety hazards in their workplaces.”“The outcome of this case sends a clear and strong message to employers that the U.S. Department of Labor will investigate and pursue appropriate legal action when employers disregard or discourage their employees’ efforts to address legitimate health and safety concerns,” said Regional Solicitor Jeffrey S. Rogoff in New York.OSHA’s Division of Whistleblower Protection Programs in New York conducted the investigation. Attorneys Amanda M. Wilmsen, Allison L. Bowles and David J. Rutenberg of the Regional Office of the Solicitor in New York litigated the case.OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and more than 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, antitrust, and anti-money laundering laws and for engaging in other related protected activities. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
Copyright 2023 © KPSK | Site by Surgical Marketing Group