The term “abusive boss” can cover a lot of different things. Most of us probably think in terms of sexual harassment or discrimination. If this is the case we know that an employee can file a case with the EEOC. But what about other situations? What about a situation where violence is threatened? The answer may surprise you because, as it turns out, being an abusive boss can get your fined by OSHA.
In a February 6, 2013 news release OSHA announced that they are suing a company in Florida because the boss’ behavior led an employee to believe a possibility of workplace violence existed. The employee confronted the boss with their concern and apparently the boss did not take too kindly to it. The employee then filed a retaliation complaint. Well that displeased the boss even more and when he received the complaint of retaliation the boss then cut off access to the computers for this employee and promptly fired them.
That course of action did not sit well with OSHA. As Teresa Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Atlanta said “Employees have the right to raise workplace violence concerns without fear of retaliation. OSHA will continue to enforce the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act to protect employees who report violations.”
The mistakes and the remedy
The boss made a several mistakes.
- First, he was being an abusive jerk and that is bad management. He was making himself a perceived safety hazard.
- He reacted by retaliating against the employee by cutting off access to the computer system not allowing the person to perform their job.
- Then he terminated the person’s employment for complaining about a safety hazard. That is directly a violation of the OSH Act.
OSHA is suing the company for back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as front pay in lieu of reinstatement. Additionally, it seeks to have the employee’s personnel records expunged with respect to the matters at issue in this case and to bar the employer against future violations of the OSH Act. He had better mind himself in the future, because if he is truly an abusive boss other employees now know that they have some recourse to deal with the situation as well.
The police power of OSHA
As I reported on March 19, 2013 in OSHA and the Affordable Care Act: What is that connection? OSHA is responsible for investigating and punishing retaliation for 22 different statutes. They will investigate such things as:
- Firing or laying off
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denial of benefits
- Failure to hire or rehire
- Making threats
- Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion
- Reducing pay or hours
The summary of the program reads:
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than twenty whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. Rights afforded by these whistleblower acts include, but are not limited to, worker participation in safety and health activities, reporting a work related injury, illness or fatality, or reporting a violation of the statutes.
For further information on the breadth of their investigatory powers click here.
What you can do
This points out how important proper knowledge of good management practices is and making supervisors and managers how critical their behavior is to the success of the company. Understanding how their behavior can get the company in hot water is an important training step.
(Hat tip to Howard Mavity of Fisher & Phillips. LLC for his article Cussing Out Your Employee May Get You Sued…By OSHA?)