You were injured because of an unsafe condition at your workplace, and decided to file a safety complaint. Now, you’ve been informed that you’re being demoted, suspended, or terminated from your position. Is this legal, and is there anything you can do about it? In this article, workplace accident lawyer Brent Wieand will cover some of the labor laws protecting employees against retaliatory termination in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Are You a Victim of Retaliatory Termination? PA and NJ Labor Laws
New Jersey and Pennsylvania are both “at-will employment” states, which means that employees may be hired or fired for virtually any reason, provided the grounds for termination do not violate state or federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These laws protect workers against employment discrimination based on membership in a protected class (e.g. race, religion, gender, age).
However, even if you do not belong to a protected class of employees, it is still illegal for employers to fire employers as revenge for “blowing the whistle” on workplace policies and practices which break the law. Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower Law, which comes from 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1421 et seq., clearly states the following at 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1423(a):
“No employer may discharge [fire], threaten or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee… because the employee… makes a good faith [non-frivolous] report or is about to report, verbally or in writing, to the employer or appropriate authority an instance of wrongdoing or waste.”
“Wrongdoing” covers code and safety violations, whereas “waste” refers more to financial corruption and misappropriation of funds.
New Jersey has similar laws to protect whistleblowers against employer retaliation. New Jersey’s version of Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower Law is called the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, and is codified at N.J.S.A. § 34:19-1 et seq.
Under N.J.S.A. § 34:19-3, employers are prohibited from firing or otherwise retaliating against whistleblowing employees who disclose (or even state they’re goingto disclose) information about fraud, criminal activity, or violations of the law, including health and safety laws.
On a similar note, employees cannot be retaliated against for refusing to participate in illegal or unsafe activities which violate local, state, or federal regulations. The exact language states that employees cannot be fired for refusing to complete a task which is “incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health, safety or welfare or protection of the environment.” (Therefore, even if your personal safety is not at risk, you cannot be legally fired for refusing to violate environmental laws, either.)
How to File a Workplace Safety Complaint with OSHA
If you’re concerned about a dangerous condition at your job, but haven’t filed a complaint because you were nervous about being fired or demoted, hopefully this information has put your mind at ease enough for you to take action. No one deserves to be forced to work in constant fear for their health and safety, and if your employer intentionally refuses to comply with state or federal safety regulations, you should strongly consider filing a complaint (and calling an attorney for legal assistance).
OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). OSHA is the main federal agency tasked with investigating and enforcing safe jobsite conditions for all types of employees, regardless of whether they are accountants or industrial workers. Sometimes you will hear the term OSHA in reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which was enacted in 1970 to hold businesses to higher standards of safety.
There are two ways to file an OSHA workplace safety complaint:
- File a paper complaint and send it via mail.
- Fill out OSHA’s complaint form online.
To file a paper OSHA complaint, print out and complete this DOL complaint form after carefully reading the instructions. The second page of the form has space for you to fill in a description of the safety hazard. Be as detailed as possible when describing the problem, and don’t forget to include your signature. Mail or bring the completed form to your local OSHA office.
For most people, it is probably faster and more convenient to submit an OSHA complaint online.
If you ever have an emergency, do not follow the steps outlined above, as forms can take weeks to process. If there is an emergency or imminent hazard, you should immediately call (800) 321-OSHA.
Please be advised that filing a false or frivolous complaint can result in harsh consequences: up to six months in jail, a $10,000 fine, and the creation of a criminal record attached to your name.
If you were fired after reporting safety violations at your job, or if you need representation in a whistleblower lawsuit, attorney Brent Wieand may be able to help. Brent also assists accident victims with personal injury claims. To talk about your situation in a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call Brent right away at (800) 481-5206.