Wrongful Termination and the OSHA Process

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What is wrongful termination?

Unless there is an employment contract involved, most employment today is considered to be “at will” employment. This means that the employment may be terminated at the will of either the employee or the employer for any reason, so long as it is not illegal.

Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired for illegitimate reasons. These may include discrimination, retaliation against the employee for certain acts, and refusing to comply with a request for an illegal act. 

In order to obtain relief, an employee who has been wrongfully terminated usually must file with an employment agency such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or their state Employment Agency. Upon proving their case, the employee is usually entitled to such remedies as back pay and reinstatement to their employment position. Employees usually must file with such agencies before they can file a lawsuit.  

Why must I contact OSHA for a wrongful termination issue? 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration protects employees by requiring employers to provide safe working conditions that are free of hazards. Employees may file a complaint with OSHA regarding violations that create dangerous work environments. This may result in an investigation and consequent penalties for the employer.

Sometimes an employer may attempt to fire an employee who has reported them to OSHA. This is called “retaliation” or “retaliatory discharge”, and it is illegal. Employees have the right to report an employee without the fear of losing their jobs. 

Employees who have been fired for reporting an employer to OSHA should file another report with OSHA in addition to the complaint that resulted in the wrongful termination. They will be entitled to a further investigation by OSHA agents regarding the termination. 

What documents do I need to prepare when reporting the wrongful termination?

You will need to provide a detailed account of the wrongful termination and the events that led up to the retaliatory discharge. Some documents to be submitted may include:
 

OSHA may be contacted in writing, in person, or by phone or e-mail. In general, whenever you are dealing with agencies such as OSHA, it is always best to communicate in writing. This way you will be able to make copies of the communications to be kept on record for future reference. 

You will usually have 30 days to file the wrongful termination report with OSHA. Additionally, you may also file with your state’s Department of Labor. 

What does the OSHA wrongful termination reporting process involve?

After OSHA has received your wrongful termination complaint, the agency will contact you regarding your claim. You may be scheduled for a preliminary interview with an OSHA agent in order for them to obtain more facts regarding your claim. From there, the agent will consider whether an investigation is necessary. 

If it is found to be necessary, OSHA will conduct an investigation of your employer and any other persons or companies involved in the dispute. This may take several weeks or months, as the agency will conduct a thorough inquiry into the termination. 

After gathering all the relevant evidence, OSHA will then render a determination regarding your wrongful termination claim. If your employer is found guilty, they will be required to provide remedies such as issuing lost wages and reinstating you to your job. OSHA might also require your employer to institute procedures that allow for employees to make reports without being terminated for doing so. 

Can I file a lawsuit against my employer?

In most workplace dispute issues, the employee is typically required to first file with an employment agency such as OSHA, the EEOC, or their state Employment Agency before they are eligible to file a civil lawsuit. One of the reasons why agencies such as OSHA were initially created was to provide alternative avenues of relief so that judicial courts do not become overburdened.

For this reason, the employee must “exhaust” their remedies before filing a lawsuit- this means obtaining relief through agencies like OSHA. This is not necessarily a setback, as the OSHA are authorized to enforce federal employment laws. 

If relief is not available under OSHA, the employee can then address the issue in a court of law. The information used in the OSHA investigation may be used as evidence in the suit.     

Do I need a lawyer to file a wrongful termination complaint with OSHA?

Workplace disputes are very important, as one’s job position can often be on the line. It is very important that you contact a lawyer regarding any complaints that you file with OSHA. An employment lawyer can help you gather and prepare the necessary information that will be used in the investigation. Also, an attorney will be able to determine what forms of relief you may be entitled to. 

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Last Modified: 09-12-2013 11:59 AM PDT

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