A Pennsylvania woman who worked for a pallet company was terminated after she complained of a mold problem in the workplace. Her termination is considered a violation of OSHA's whistleblower statute and, as a result, the company is being ordered to pay the employee $105,000 to settle her retaliation claim.
Complaints of mold at IFCO Services plant
According to the discrimination claims, the employee had complained for more than two months that the she had health concerns because of mold exposure in the IFCO Services plant located in Biglerville, PA. She first informed the company in April 2014 about mold growing behind filing cabinets in one office of the plant. After no action was taken for a week, the employee reported the situation to Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which subsequently notified the company.
IFCO's response to the complaints
Upon receiving the OSHA complaint, IFCO hired an environmental health contractor to analyze the mold. IFCO was ultimately notified by the contractor that there actually was significant active mold growth on the wall behind a filing cabinet, just as the employee had reported. The contractor also warned the company that condition needed to be remedied as soon as possible. However, for two months no steps were taken by the company to remedy the situation. As a result, the employee continued to complain to IFCO management. IFCO refused to either have the mold removed or remove the affected employees from the contaminated work area.
IFCO's violations of OSHA
Although the company confirmed that mold indeed existed in the plant, it did not remove the hazard, but instead terminated the employee less than 3 weeks after she repeatedly complained about the health concern. It was found that IFCO Services not only failed to take any action to eliminate a confirmed mold hazard to its employees, which put them at risk of developing chronic health conditions, but it also retaliated against the employee who brought this serious matter to the company's attention.
What is a “whistleblower?”
When an employee discovers illegal conduct occurring at his place of employment, he may be compelled to report it. What often prevents employees from doing so is the fear that they will lose their jobs. To encourage employees to come forward and report illegal conduct, the federal legislature has created numerous protections for these brave employees, referred to as “whistleblowers.”
Environmental safety protected by OSHA
The Occupational Safety & Health Act, more commonly known as OSHA, provides protection for employees who, among other things, file safety and health complaints and
participate or cooperate in health and safety inspections. Claims of retaliation under OSHA must be filed by employees within 30 days of the retaliatory act.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.