Whistleblower Retaliation: Are Employees Afraid to Speak Up?

It is not uncommon for employees to uncover questionable or even illegal situations while at work. Unfortunately, many are too afraid of workplace retaliation to speak up. To combat this, the government has developed numerous protections from retaliation such as when employers demote, punish, threaten or terminate employees who voice concerns.

One highly publicized case centered on an Albany-based asbestos abatement and demolition company. Champagne Demolition, LLC, was ordered to pay more than $173,000 to a former employee who was fired after reporting improper asbestos removal practices at a school worksite.

The employee had informed company management of the improper practices and was terminated the next day. According to statements, the employee was also subjected to verbal threats and legal action. The employee subsequently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which opened a whistleblower investigation. OSHA’s investigation found the complaint to have merit.

Following the verdict, OSHA’s Regional Administrator Robert Kulick stated “Every worker has the right to report potential safety and health hazards without fear of harassment, termination or retaliation.”

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral used in numerous building materials predominately until the 1980s but is still in limited new products today. Inhalation of asbestos dust can cause a broad array of respiratory and cancerous conditions such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and other cancers. Renovation projects and asbestos abatement must follow strict procedures to ensure the safe removal of the asbestos without any fiber release. Unfortunately, when these standards are not met, deadly exposure can be a consequence.