Workers in New Mexico received a strong message that the law considers companies liable for damages when they retaliate against employees who report unlawful activities. A jury has sided with a man fired by his company, an asbestos removal company, after he blew the whistle on improper asbestos handling.
OSHA litigated the case on behalf of the former employee to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act's Section 11(c), which makes retaliation illegal. The lawsuit described how the man realized that the company was mishandling asbestos at a work site. He collected evidence at the work site and took pictures. When he questioned his employer about the illegal activity, the company dismissed him the next day. The company also filed a lawsuit against him for defamation.
Both actions met the legal definition of retaliation. Multiple cases over the years have affirmed that baseless lawsuits against whistleblowers represent retaliation meant to silence employees and hide misconduct. The jury set the settlement at about $174,000. Over $100,000 compensated the man for back wages. The rest of the jury award included $20,000 in compensatory and another $50,000 in punitive damages.
Employer retaliation can take many forms. A person might experience suspension without pay, exclusion from training, a cut in hours, bad reviews or false criminal charges after upsetting an employer. When someone wants to know if actions at work have crossed legal lines, an attorney could evaluate the facts and possibly prepare a lawsuit. Under certain circumstances, the law protects a worker from harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Damages sought in court could include compensation for lost pay and career damage.