While businesses around the country begin to reopen in a world still overrun by COVID-19, one legal risk to employers looms over all others—the whistleblower.
The scenarios are endless. The employee who complains that his co-workers are not wearing masks at work … or that the company is not enforcing social distancing … or that her officemate is coughing at her desk … or that high-contact surfaces are not being disinfected with enough frequency.
At least three laws protect these employees from retaliation, and could give rise to employer liability in the event of a termination of other adverse action on the heels of complaints (or other protected activity):
1. OSHA. The ongoing pandemic did not stop workplace whistleblower protections under OSHA. If anything, the pandemic has heightened these protections.
In fact, OSHA put out a press release in April that clearly stated:
“Any worker who believes that their employer is retaliating against them for reporting unsafe working conditions should contact OSHA immediately.”
OSHA requires employers to provide safe and healthy workplaces for their employees. Employees who report otherwise to OSHA or their employers are protected from retaliation.