In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (“OSHA”) saw fit to remind employers that it remains illegal to retaliate against workers who report unsafe and unhealthful working conditions, including workplace issues related to COVID-19.
Generally, the whistleblower provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and similar state whistleblower laws, prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees who engage in protected activity related to the safety of the workplace. The Act provides protections to employees who reasonably and in good faith exercise rights under the Act. This could include, for instance, reporting a work-related illness, requesting access to health and safety records, or expressing safety and health concerns to a manager or supervisor, among other things.
As the public health recommendations and legal requirements surrounding COVID-19 continue to quickly evolve, an employer’s duty to provide a hazard-free workplace is increasingly difficult. In addition to that obligation, employers must also be mindful of the potential consequences of taking adverse action against employees who may speak up in the face of a perceived threat.
Employers should also consider this enforcement provision as they plan reductions in the workforce, furloughs, and other measures to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For assistance with addressing issues related to workplace safety, managing a retaliation claim, or other related issues, we are here to help. Please contact any member of our Labor and Employment Group for assistance; we remain available to assist you 24/7 as the need arises.