The nation’s largest pallet manufacturer must pay an employee it terminated for voicing concerns about workplace health hazards $105,000 in back wages, damages, and other compensation, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said.
According to OSHA, for more than two months, the worker repeatedly told her employer, IFCO Systems Worldwide, about health hazards related to toxic mold exposure at the company’s Biglerville, Penn., plant.
The employee found the mold growing behind filing cabinets in one of the plant’s offices. Worried about the health risks posed by toxic mold, the employee submitted a complaint to OSHA when the company failed to take any remedial action within a week.
Although IFCO confirmed the mold existed, it continued to take no measures to remove it and instead ultimately fired the woman in July 2014, allegedly in retaliation for complaining, OSHA said.
“IFCO showed a total disregard for the well-being of its employees, who physically suffered due to ongoing exposure to mold hazards,” said Oscar L. Hampton, OSHA’s regional solicitor in Philadelphia. “This case demonstrates the department’s determination to take all necessary legal steps to protect workers who complain regarding hazards in their workplace.”
After being served with a lawsuit filed by OSHA March 3 on behalf of the worker, IFCO hired an environmental health contractor to sample the mold. The contractor notified IFCO that there was significant active mold growth occurring on the wall behind a filing cabinet and warned that remediation was required as quickly as possible.
On July 6, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor secured a consent judgment requiring IFCO to pay the employee $105,000 for lost wages and other damages suffered as a result of the improper termination.
“IFCO’s refusal to take immediate action to eliminate what was confirmed to be a serious mold hazard left its employees at risk of developing a chronic health condition,” said Richard Mendelson, OSHA regional administrator in Philadelphia. “They also retaliated against the employee who alerted the company and OSHA to the hazard. No worker should have to fear retaliation when they identify a workplace safety and health concern.”