Retaliation is one of the biggest mistakes any management or leadership department can make. Certainly when an employee files complaints, it can be frustrating, but taking action against the employee in response is illegal. A former staff member at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington is suing their ex-employer for just such a retaliation firing.
The employee in question claims that he filed a complaint in April of 2015 about the workplace being contaminated with hazardous materials, including, among other things, paint fumes. He claims that being confined in a small space with these fumes made him ill with headaches, nausea, respiratory problems and headaches.
The staff member, who was an accountant and grant biller, claims he was then subject to retaliation firing one week after he notified OSHA of the problem. The lawsuit seeks $200,000 in damages both compensatory and punitive, and levies a charge that the company violated the Human Rights Act as the firing was not only retaliatory, but discriminatory based on his race, gender and national origin.
The company, in turn, denies the allegations out of hand and says that the staff member was terminated under D.C. employment regulations and at the end of a three-month trial period. It also claims that the charges and claims against the company do not include a possibility for relief. They will not, however, comment on the reasons for the termination, saying that it is against company policy to make such commentary.
OSHA did conduct an investigation of the site in response to the complaint, but found no immediate violations of OSHA standards. The employee’s attorney, however, says that OSHA’s findings are immaterial as to whether he was fired for issuing the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges that the staff member was let go after receiving only compliments and praise about his work performance. The case has been assigned to the U.S. District Courts.
Allegations of firing an employee over retaliation for a complaint can be ruinous to a business. You need to be prepared to handle such situations in your company. If you are confused about where the line falls for reasonable termination in your company, and what steps should be taken before a termination, it is best to discuss the situation with an HR expert or an employment law attorney.