The U.S. Department of Labor has sued U.S. Steel Corp. for allegedly retaliating against two Pennsylvania-based employees who violated the company’s immediate reporting policy for workplace injuries. The Department of Labor said on Feb. 22 that in 2014 two U.S. Steel Corp. employees reported injuries that may have resulted from worksite incidents occurring a few days earlier. At the time of the incidents, the employees were unaware they had suffered injuries, as symptoms did not develop until later. When the workers realized and reported their injuries, U.S. Steel suspended both workers without pay for violating the company’s immediate reporting policy.
The lawsuit against U.S. Steel seeks to reverse the disciplinary action taken against these employees and amend the company’s immediate reporting policy. Richard Mendelson, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regional administrator in Philadelphia, said U.S. Steel’s policy discourages employees from reporting injuries for fear of retaliation. Mendelson said:
Because workers don’t always recognize injuries at the time they occur, the policy provides an incentive for employees to not report injuries once they realize they should, since they are concerned that the timing of their report would violate the company’s policy and result in some kind of reprimand.
Both of the workers mentioned above suffered injuries in February 2014. In one case that occurred on Feb. 12, 2014, a full-time utility technician at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Plant, in Clairton, Penn., found a small splinter lodged in his thumb and extracted it himself. He completed his shift without further incident. But two days later, his thumb and hand were swollen noticeably, and he received medical treatment for an infection. When he reported the incident to his supervisor, the company imposed a five-day suspension without pay for his violating the company’s policy. U.S. Steel later reduced the suspension to two days.
In the other case that took place on Feb. 15, 2014, a full-time laborer at the Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, Penn., bumped his head on a low beam. That employee was wearing a hardhat and didn’t feel any pain or any discomfort at the time. However, several days later, he experienced stiffness in his right shoulder and sought medical treatment, which his representative reported to U.S. Steel as a possible worksite injury. When he met with U.S. Steel’s representative to discuss the issue, the company suspended him for five days without pay.
Both workers filed complaints with OSHA, alleging that U.S. Steel had suspended them in retaliation for reporting workplace injuries. The agency found that in both cases the company had violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, or Section 11(c), when the company used its immediate reporting policy as a basis for sanctioning employees who reported injuries “late.” Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, the lawsuit seeks the following:
• Enjoining U.S. Steel from violating Section 11(c)(1) of the Act;
• Directing the company to rescind and nullify its immediate reporting policy;
• Permanently enjoining the company from enforcing an injury or illness reporting policy that requires employees to report their workplace injuries or illnesses earlier than seven calendar days after the injured or ill employee becomes aware of his or her injury or illness;
• Rescinding the discipline and sanction of the two employees;
• Directing the company to compensate the complainants for any, and all lost wages and benefits including interest, as well as compensatory damages; and
• Directing the company to post notices at all of its work sites for 60 days stating that it will not discriminate or retaliate against employees involved in activities protected by Section 11 (c) of the Act.
This is a very important case and it will be watched closely.
Source: The U.S. Department of Labor
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