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How are workers are protected from employer retaliation?

In any business, employees may feel as though they have much less power than their employer. This may lead to employees not reporting violations by their employer - including potentially unsafe workplace conditions - for fear of being fired. But did you know there are both federal and state protections in place to protect workers in such situations?

The United States Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has protections in place to assure that workers can work in a safe working environment. While accidents may happen in any environment, OSHA's mission is to make certain that workers are made aware of potential dangers in the workplace, that employers document all workplace injuries and provide safety training to employees who work in potentially hazardous environments. Because OSHA cannot monitor every working environment, it relies on employees to report safety hazards that have not been addressed by the worker's employer.

Furthermore, it also protects workers who do file a claim with OSHA from being fired for reporting the condition by the employer. If a worker believes that he or she was fired due to retaliation, he or she has 30 days to file a complaint with OSHA. This is not applicable to a worker fired for non-retaliatory reasons however, so an employee must prove that the termination was solely due to retaliation.

Beyond OSHA, many locales, including New York City, have employment laws in place to protect employees from retaliatory acts by employers. It is crucial that workers who feel that they are threatened by potentially unsafe working environments immediately report the conditions to their employers. If the situations are not addressed, it may be in the worker's best interests to reach out to OSHA for further action knowing that federal law protects reporting of dangerous conditions.

Source: FindLaw, "Employee Safety and Retaliation," accessed on May 31, 2016

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