A Bronx hair salon employee who was fired after she gave her colleagues copies of a Labor Department fact sheet about the hazards of formaldehyde has been awarded $165,000 by a New York federal court in a whistleblower retaliation case one federal official described as “unnerving.”
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Salon Zoe and its owner Kristina Veljovic illegally fired the employee, a salon receptionist, in June 2012 after she distributed the fact sheets to other employees who routinely worked with the harmful formaldehyde products.
Formaldehyde is a highly volatile and carcinogenic compound that poses a substantial threat to human health. It is commonly used as an ingredient in certain hair-smoothing products used by salons. Despite the known risks of formaldehyde and federal laws designed to protect salon workers from it, regulators find employees in the hair styling industry continue to be exposed to the substance, often on a daily basis.
The receptionist filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, which sued Salon Zoe in February 2015 after repeated attempts to settle the matter voluntarily failed.
A federal consent judgment obtained by the Labor Department ordered the salon to pay the former employee $65,000 in lost wages and $100,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. The judgement further ordered Salon Zoe to erase all references to the matter from the employee’s personnel file.
“There’s a simple message here: Don’t fire, discriminate or retaliate against your employees when they raise legitimate health and safety issues; there will be consequences,” said Jeffrey S. Rogoff, the regional solicitor of labor in New York. “The department will pursue appropriate legal actions, including lawsuits, to ensure that workers’ rights are protected.”
The judgment against the salon and its owner also prohibits them from firing or discriminating against employees who file OSHA complaints; blacklisting, demoting, threatening, suspending, harassing, or intimidating employees who report workplace injuries and illnesses; and advising employees against exercising their whistleblower rights, including contacting, speaking with, or cooperating with OSHA investigators.
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
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