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OSHA Makes Good on Targeting Employers Who Retaliate for COVID Concerns

In October 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) filed a lawsuit against an Austin luxury car dealer because it fired an employee for warning managers and coworkers about possible COVID exposure.

On March 12, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the DOL, issued a National Emphasis Program targeting employers who retaliate against employees for bringing up concerns about COVID exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Employees may file complaints of workplace retaliation with OSHA. If the matter does not resolve satisfactorily following an investigation, the DOL may file a lawsuit.

Regarding the Austin car dealership, OSHA investigated and found that Hi Tech Imports violated the Act because it retaliated against the employee in December 2020. The employee had asked Hi Tech management to let other employees know about a co-worker who tested positive for the coronavirus. When management did not share that information, the employee sent an email to all company employees notifying them of their exposure. The company fired the employee within an hour. OSHA found the employee acted legally, with real concern for the safety of co-workers. The company’s decision to terminate this employee was illegal. The DOL can seek damages from Hi Tech including reinstatement, lost wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages.