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An OSHA and public relations nightmare that didn’t have to be

How would you like to be responsible for OSHA compliance at a healthcare facility where the local newspaper reports that one of your managers allegedly disciplined a staff member by making her rummage through biohazardous waste? And, on top of that, the employee who filed the complaint with OSHA is now suing you for wrongful termination under the Whistleblower Act [1].

Any takers? Read more before accepting the position.

Gregory Stewart, a former employee of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa Bay, Florida, is suing the healthcare facility for wrongful termination after he reported to OSHA an incident involving biohazardous waste, according to The Tampa Bay Tribune.

Although Stewart never witnessed the incident, after talking with the employee involved he informed OSHA that a manager at the Center forced a co-worker to search through a bag of biologically-hazardous waste for his keys to “teach her a lesson,” even though his keys were in his pocket, reported the Tribune.

Now, under the whistleblower law, which protects employees from unfavorable personnel action after filing a complaint to OSHA, Stewart is suing the center for firing him.

Whether the incident with the manager is true or not, and whether the whistleblower suit is upheld or not, it’s a lose-lose situation for the Cancer Center.

If it’s true that the manager exposed the worker to biohazardous trash, then there is some serious OSHA training and personnel management work needed at Moffitt, something that might have been handled internally.

But once an OSHA complaint is made, the last thing you want to do is to single out the complaining employee for discipline or give the worker any recourse to connect adverse action with the OSHA complaint.

According to OSHA, adverse action is a material change in the terms or conditions of employment, and can include:

A good OSHA compliance program will always encourage direct communication in the reporting of hazards and safety violations internally as a first measure. But once an OSHA complaint is made, sometimes it is in your best interest not to know who filed it.

So, who is at fault here? What would you have done to mitigate this lose-lose situation? Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Let us know by posting a comment below.