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| Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

We’ve previously discussed how some employers, especially those in the railroad industry, have been known to take action against employees who were either injured on the job or who have come forward with worries about workplace safety. We’d like to believe these cases are isolated incidents, but complaints of retaliation surface routinely and across an array of industries, something that troubles officials with the Department of Labor.

According to the a recent press release by the DOL, a lawsuit has been filed against Ohio Bell Telephone Company, a division of AT&T, on behalf of 13 workers who were placed on unpaid leave for reporting workplace injuries. The case claims that the workers were suspended for periods between 2011 to 2013.

The DOL claims that employees of AT&T were disciplined in 13 separate incidents and were each handed out unpaid suspensions that lasted for between one and three days. AT&T tried to justify the suspensions by claiming that the employees had violated workplace safety rules.

The workers eventually brought their complaints to federal safety officials who launched an investigation into the matter. OSHA says that its investigation revealed that the suspensions were not the result of any rule violations, but instead motivated solely by the workers’ decision to report their injuries.

Officials with the DOL have come out publicly to speak against AT&T’s actions in the case, saying that the retaliation was not only heartless, but also illegal. Federal law says that it is illegal for an employer to discipline workers simply for reporting injuries. The problem is that when companies retaliate against injured workers they succeed in creating an atmosphere of fear in the workplace. This can discourage employees from reporting workplace hazards and dramatically increase the chance that workers are hurt in the future.

The Department of Labor says that AT&T’s actions clearly violate the whistleblower provisions contained in the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act. Beyond protecting workers in the communication industry, similar provisions in federal law exist to protect employees across a variety of jobs, including those in the railroad industry. Employees who think they may have been subjected to retaliation by an employer for engaging in protected conduct, such as reporting valid workplace injuries, should know that they might have a valid legal claim for compensation.


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