Employee immigration status second to injury in OSHA investigation

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts alleges that Tara Construction Inc., Boston, retaliated against an injured employee by facilitating his arrest at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff. Reporting an injury to an employer and spurring an OSHA proceeding are protected activities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the agency contends.

The employee sustained a broken leg when he fell from a ladder on a Tara Construction site. Shortly after the employee reported the incident, OSHA alleges, the contractor initiated a local and federal law enforcement investigation leading to his detainment by ICE. Tara Construction CEO Pedro Pirez arranged for the employee to meet at the office, the complaint asserts, setting the stage for the employee’s arrest after leaving the building. Contradicting a law enforcement account, Pirez informed OSHA that he had no idea how ICE agents knew where the employee would be when he was detained.

An OSHA Whistleblower Protection Program investigation concluded that the defendant’s actions breached OSH Act-protected activity and would dissuade a reasonable worker from reporting an injury. “The Act prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights, regardless of the employees’ immigration status,” says Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher. “This case demonstrates that through legal action the Department promotes safe workplaces free from unlawful retaliation.”

The agency complaint asks the court to order Tara Construction to a) comply with the OSH Act’s anti-retaliation provisions, and pay the employee back wages, interest, plus compensatory and punitive damages; and, b) provide a neutral letter of reference, expunge from its files any information regarding the adverse action against the employee, and notify staff of whistleblower rights under the OSH Act.