PLAINS TOWNSHIP, PA – The U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit against a Luzerne County paper products manufacturing company and its owner after they fired a worker for raising safety concerns and asking several times for safety gloves to operate a shredder and baler. Prior to the employee suffering injury while operating the machine, their supervisor denied multiple requests for protective equipment.
The department filed a lawsuit against Midvale Paper Box Co. Inc. and owner David Frank in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Scranton.
On Oct. 5, 2017, a compliance officer with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted a safety inspection at Midvale in response to a complaint alleging – among other things – that the company failed to provide personal protective equipment and made employees unjam machines without implementing required lockout/tagout procedures. The worker, whose hand injury occurred after the company denied the first request for safety gloves, asked twice more after the inspection but the company denied the requests.
The department alleges Midvale Paper Box Co. Inc. later terminated the worker in retaliation for multiple requests for gloves, participating in OSHA’s safety investigation and their mistaken belief that the worker filed the safety complaint that initiated the investigation.
“Employers who retaliate against workers for raising valid safety concerns are breaking the law and creating an unsafe work environment for all of their workers,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Michael Rivera in Philadelphia. “Employees have a right to a safe and healthful workplace, and must never fear that reporting their concerns will cost them their jobs.”
The company is currently contesting citations issued because of the October 2017 OSHA inspection. The agency assessed a proposed penalty of more than $200,000 for nine workplace safety violations, including one serious, two willful and six repeat violations.
The employee filed a complaint with OSHA after their firing. OSHA concurred, concluding Midvale Paper Box Co. and David Frank violated Section 11(c)(1) of the OSH Act when they terminated the employee for engaging in protected activities.
“Retaliation against employees for engaging in protected activities will not be tolerated. We have, therefore, filed the complaint to pursue any and all legal remedies available under the act,” said Regional Solicitor Oscar L. Hampton III in Philadelphia.
The department’s complaint seeks to:
Prohibit defendants, their officers, agents, servants and employees from violating the provisions of Section 11 (c) of the act.
Order defendants to reinstate and pay the complainant for all past and future lost wages that resulted from the termination.
Order defendants to post for no less than 60 days a copy of the decree entered in this case and a notice that the defendants will not discriminate against any employee for engaging in activities protected by Section 11(c) of the act.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 24 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, and securities laws. Learn more about OSHA’s whistleblower protections program.