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Wrongful Termination and the OSHA Process

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What is Wrongful Termination?

Today, most workers are “at-will” employees. This means that an employer can terminate them for any legal reason. Wrongful termination occurs when the firing of an employee violates state or federal law. Generally speaking, an employer cannot terminate you due to:

  • Your race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, or other protected status under civil rights laws,
  • Whistleblowing (when you report legal violations to a government agency or company leadership), or
  • Your refusal to engage in illegal activities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that oversees workplace safety. OSHA sets standards that employers must follow. Federal law clearly recognizes that it is illegal for an employer to fire someone for reporting OSHA violations.

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Why Must I Contact OSHA for a Wrongful Termination Issue? 

If you are terminated, demoted, or suffer other adverse employment action because you filed an OSHA complaint, you have additional legal remedies. However, you must file another complaint with OSHA, reporting your retaliatory discharge. Once reported, OSHA’s agents will investigate your claims and help resolve the dispute.

What Documents Do I Need to Prepare When Reporting the Wrongful Termination?

You must complete either an online or written whistleblower blower complaint form and submit it to OSHA. This form requires detailed information, including:

  • Your date of hire and termination,
  • The name of the person who retaliated against you,
  • The type of adverse employment action (such as termination or demotion),
  • The dates of retaliation,
  • The reasons (if any) that your employer provided for your termination,
  • The actual reasons you believe you were terminated or penalized, and 
  • Other information about your OSHA complaints and the retaliatory discharge.

Additionally, you should provide evidence supporting your claims and damages, such as witness information, pay stubs, and other documents supporting your claim.

For most claims, you must file a wrongful termination complaint within 30 days. However, some claims have longer filing deadlines. (OSHA publishes a list of filing deadlines on its website.) Other filing deadlines apply to state discrimination or wrongful termination claims.

What Does the OSHA Wrongful Termination Reporting Process Involve?

After OSHA receives your wrongful termination complaint, the agency will begin to process your claim. You should receive a letter confirming your complaint that includes its case number. (Your employer will also receive notice of your complaint.) An OSHA agent may interview you about your claim.

OSHA does not perform a full investigation of every complaint. A full investigation will occur if:

  • You file a complaint before the filing deadline,
  • At first glance, there is evidence of retaliatory discharge, and
  • Your claim is covered by OSHA.

If you are eligible, OSHA agents will collect documents, testimony, and other evidence. The investigation may take several weeks or months, depending on the complexity of your case.

After reviewing all the relevant evidence, OSHA will determine whether a whistleblowing violation occurred. Sometimes, the agency will settle your dispute. Other times, it will file a federal lawsuit on your behalf demanding compensation. If you disagree with its decision, you have the right to appeal. 

Can I File a Lawsuit Against my Employer?

You cannot file a personal lawsuit under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. (Only OSHA can file federal lawsuits under this law.) However, you may other causes of action under state and federal employment law.

Many of these claims have strict filing procedures. For example, the first step in most federal discrimination cases is the filing of an administrative complaint. If you do not file this complaint within the correct time frame, your case may be automatically dismissed.

If you want to file a wrongful discharge lawsuit against your employer, contact an employment lawyer immediately. A lawyer can help you understand your legal options and ensure that you properly file your claim.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Wrongful Termination Complaint with OSHA?

It’s probably in your best interest to hire a lawyer. Wrongful termination claims typically involve a detailed factual and legal analysis. You may have claims under multiple laws—and a single mistake can result in the dismissal of your case. An employment lawyer will help you understand your rights, file the correct claims, and build a persuasive case against your former employer.

Photo of page author Leigh Ebrom

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 03-21-2018 12:03 AM PDT

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