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Feds challenge disciplinary actions tied to employees’ tardy claims of workplace injury

Sources: Occupational Safety and Health Administration; CP staff

The Department of Labor is testing Occupational Safety and Health Act anti-discrimination provisions in a lawsuit contending U.S. Steel Corp. wrongfully suspended two Pennsylvania employees who reported treatment for symptoms of injuries perhaps occurring a few days prior while on the clock. Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel requires immediate workplace injury reporting.

In complaints filed with OSHA, a Clairton Plant utility technician and Irvin Plant (West Mifflin) laborer alleged that U.S. Steel suspended them in retaliation for reports of, respectively: an infected, swollen hand from which a splinter had been removed; and, shoulder stiffness possibly attributable to minor hardhat–low beam contact. The Clairton worker was suspended without pay for two days, his Irvin colleague for five days. The agency found the company violated OSH Act Section 11(c) when it used the immediate reporting policy as a basis for sanctioning employees who report injuries “late.”

“U.S. Steel’s policy discourages employees from reporting injuries for fear of retaliation,” says OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson, Philadelphia. “Because workers don’t always recognize injuries at the time they occur, the policy provides an incentive for employees to not report injuries once they realize they should, since they are concerned that the timing of their report would violate the company’s policy and result in some kind of reprimand.”

By way of a U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware suit, the Labor Department Regional Office of the Solicitor, Philadelphia, seeks to:

  • Direct U.S. Steel to rescind and nullify the immediate injury reporting policy.
  • Permanently enjoin the company from enforcing an injury or illness reporting policy that requires employees to report their workplace injuries or illnesses earlier than seven calendar days after the injured or ill employee becomes aware of his or her injury or illness.
  • Rescind the discipline and sanction of the two employees.
  • Direct the company to compensate the complainants for any, and all lost wages and benefits including interest, and pay compensatory damages.
  • Direct the company to post for 60 days at all work sites notices stating that it will not discriminate or retaliate against employees involved in OSH Act Section 11(c)-protected activities.