A recent lawsuit acts as a reminder how important it is for employers to take COVID-19 concerns and precautions seriously.
One company fired an employee who tried to warn his co-workers about a possible COVID-19 hazard, and the DOL quickly filed suit.
Hi Tech Motorcars LLC, a luxury car dealer located in Austin, TX, terminated an employee unlawfully after he brought COVID-19 concerns to light, the DOL said.
The incident occurred after this employee learned a co-worker had tested positive for COVID-19. He asked management to alert the workers who had come into contact with the positive employee, but the company did nothing.
The employee then took it upon himself to warn his colleagues. He sent out a companywide email, expressing his concerns about COVID-19 hazards at Hi Tech Motorcars. The employee was fired an hour later.
Violated OSH Act
Hi Tech Motorcars violated the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act by firing this employee. The DOL is seeking reinstatement, lost wages and compensatory damages.
“No worker should ever fear losing their job for raising workplace safety and health concerns,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin. “This employee acted out of real concern for their safety and that of their co-workers, and their actions are protected under federal law.”
The employee was also protected under OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
Take safety seriously
This lawsuit offers several important lessons for employers. The first is to take employee health and safety seriously. This employer should’ve alerted its employees about the COVID-positive worker — it never should’ve fallen on an employee to take action.
Secondly, employees have the right to speak out against unsafe working conditions and other health and safety concerns. Firing an employee for doing so will result in a big legal headache for employers.