Ministry of Labor sues luxury car dealership for firing COVID security whistleblower

The US Department of Labor (DOL) has filed a lawsuit against a luxury car dealership for firing an employee who raised concerns about “potential risks of coronavirus in the workplace” and communicated these concerns to managers and colleagues.

According to an Oct. 13 press release, the lawsuit follows an investigation by DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which found that Hi Tech Motorcars LLC, Hi Tech Imports LLC and Hi Tech Luxury Imports LLC “violated occupational safety and health law when it retaliated against the worker in December 2020.”

DOL’s OSHA aims “to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for workers,” according to its website. The agency’s whistleblower protection program enforces the whistleblower provisions under 25 whistleblower statutes.

In this case, the employee working for the Austin-based car dealership “asked management to immediately inform other employees of their risk of exposure” after learning that a colleague had tested positive for COVID-19 . After management did not follow up on the employee’s request, it “emailed everyone in the company about the potential dangers.” According to the press release, the employer fired the employee within an hour of the employee sending the email.

“OSHA discovered that the employee had exercised his legal rights under Section 11 (c) of the OSH Act and that the termination was illegal,” the press release said. The DOL filed a lawsuit against the employer in US District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. The DOL lawsuit “seeks reinstatement, loss of salary and benefits resulting from termination, reimbursement of costs and expenses, compensatory damages and exemplary or punitive damages”.

“No worker should be afraid of losing their job for raising occupational safety and health concerns,” said OSHA regional administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “The OSHA investigation and the US Department of Labor’s action in this matter show that we will vigorously enforce these protections. “

“This employee has acted out of genuine concern for his safety and the safety of his co-workers, and his actions are protected by federal law,” said regional labor attorney John Rainwater in Dallas. “The law also protects whistleblowers against retaliation from their employer and holds employers accountable when they do.”

At the end of the press release, an editor’s note reminds readers that the DOL “does not publish the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.”

Whistleblowers are essential for reporting workplace safety concerns. In fiscal 2020, OSHA documented that it received 3,448 whistleblower files, which is an increase from the previous fiscal year.

Read the OSHA press release here.

Read more OSHA and DOL news on WNN.

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Sylvia F. Hernandez