ATLANTA, GA — A former employee of Georgia-based school bus manufacturer Blue Bird Corp. will receive $176,000 in back wages and interest after being illegally terminated for refusing to work under unsafe conditions and reporting the safety concerns to labor officials.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a Blue Bird maintenance worker was ordered to use a bucket lift truck to hang Christmas wreaths for the company. Not familiar with the operation of the bucket truck, the worker requested training in the equipment’s operation. Instead of receiving the proper training, however, a dispute erupted with company management over the training, which led to the worker being fired.
An OSHA whistleblower investigation found that the employee was terminated illegally simply for refusing to work under dangerous conditions. When Blue Bird refused to reinstate the employee, the Labor Department’s Office of the Solicitor filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Georgia, which ruled in favor of the Labor Department. Blue Bird then appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which also agreed with the Labor Department. Following those rulings, the company agreed to pay the worker $170,800 in wages plus nearly $6,000 in interest.
Additionally, the company will pay the Labor Department’s costs associated with the appeal of the case. Blue Bird also agreed to compensate the state of Georgia for unemployment benefits the terminated employee received should the state seek recovery of those funds.
“After much litigation, we are pleased with the successful settlement of this case in favor of the employee,” said Cindy Coe, administrator of OSHA’s Atlanta Office. “The courts confirmed the Labor Department’s argument that every employee has the right to report any safety concerns in the workplace without fear of retaliation. The Labor Department will hold companies accountable when they violate basic worker rights,” Ms. Coe added.
Various whistleblower laws and provisions enacted by Congress prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who raise concerns about safety and workplace practices. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in “protected” conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.