When a worker at a West Virginia beef jerky manufacturing plant accidentally suffered a thumb amputation on the job, a coworker rushed to assistance, applying pressure to the wound and using her cell phone to call 911. But instead of rewarding her quick action in helping her injured coworker, Lone Star Western Beef of Fairmont, W. Va., punished the worker.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said that John M. Bachman, the company’s owner, ordered the worker to hang up her phone before responders could answer. He then collected the severed portion of the wounded worker’s thumb and told a company supervisor to drive the injured employee to an urgent care clinic.
The injured worker ultimately was transferred to a hospital for treatment, but surgeons were unable to reattach the severed thumb.
In addition to calling for emergency assistance, the coworker noticed that Mr. Bachman did not fully clean or sanitize the area of the plant where the injury occurred. Later that afternoon, she discussed her concerns about the incident, cleanup, lack of appropriate personal protective equipment, and her attempt to call 911 with a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector. She was terminated from her job two days later.
After she was fired, the co-worker filed a complaint with OSHA alleging that Lone Star and Mr. Bachman terminated her in retaliation for voicing her concerns to authorities in violation of federal whistleblower protections. The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Lone Star and Mr. Bachman seeking back wages, compensation for emotional distress, pain, and suffering, and punitive damages for the terminated employee.
“Lone Star Western Beef punished an employee for seeking emergency medical care for a seriously injured co-worker. Her efforts were protected under Section 11(c) and showed basic human decency,” said Richard Mendelson, OSHA regional administrator in Philadelphia. “No worker should have to fear retaliation from their employer for calling 911 in an emergency, or taking other action to report a workplace safety or health incident.”