Clearwater Paper Corp is facing a Department of Labor lawsuit after firing an employee who raised
A whistleblower lawsuit against Clearwater Paper Corp reminds employers dealing with workplace safety and health complaints need to use care to manage potential retaliation claims by complaining workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor whistleblower complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho against Clearwater Paper Corp. in Lewiston, Idaho, alleges the company illegally retaliated against an employee who raised workplace safety and health concerns. The Labor Department’s complaint charges that a Clearwater Paper fired an employee in 2010 in retaliation for filing a safety complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The employee was first suspended and then fired soon after OSHA conducted an inspection to assess excessive exposure to red cedar dust at Clearwater Paper’s sawmill in Lewiston. This facility was later sold in 2011. The Department seeks reinstatement of the employee as well as payment of more than $300,000 in damages and fees, including back pay, compensatory damages, emotional distress damages and punitive damages.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSH Act) and most state occupational health and safety laws include provisions that prohibit retaliation against workers for making safety complaints or exercising other rights. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provision of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, public transportation, workplace safety and health, consumer product safety, health care reform and financial reform laws. Under these laws, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.
The protections and remedies for retaliation against whistleblowers reporting health and safety concerns are just one type of employee action that can trigger whistleblower or other retaliation protections under federal or state law. Even when the complaint or report made by worker proves unfounded, good faith reports can trigger the whistleblower protections of most of these statutes. Since the protections tend to follow the worker throughout his or her career with an employer, employers need to carefully document these reports and use care to monitor for improper retaliation risks or exposures. If improperly managed, the whistleblower or other retaliation complaints can create significant risks for dealing with a employee who has reported health and safety concerns or engaged in other protected activities. Employers disciplining or terminating these workers need to be prepared to defend against a potential whistleblower claim by providing sufficient documentation and other evidence to prove a valid business reason, rather than retaliation, lead to the adverse job action. Typically this should begin by establishing and administered consistent, well-documented practices for documenting performance and discipline for all employees not those who have made safety reports or engaged in other action that could provide a basis for a whistleblower complaint. While reviewing job discipline and terminations for potential whistleblower or other illegal bias also is a good practice, employers should use caution when conducting performance reviews or other performance or discipline activities with respect to safety or other potential whistleblowers to avoid the appearance of singling out the whistleblower for special scrutiny or heightened standards as this conduct could itself be used as potential evidence of illegal retaliation.
For Help or More Information
If you need help understanding or dealing with reviewing or negotiating your vendor agreements, or with other 2014 health plan decision-making or preparation, or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters.
A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals. A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.
Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations. She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications. Her widely respected publications and programs include more than 25 years of publications on health plan contracting, design, administration and risk management including a “Managed Care Contracting Guide” published by the American Health Lawyers Association and numerous other works on vendor contracting. You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.
Other Helpful Resources & Other Information
We hope that this information is useful to you. If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here . You also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,” using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.
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