The U.S. Department of Labor has sued United States Steel Corp. to reverse disciplinary actions taken against two employees for reporting workplace injuries in violation of the company’s immediate-reporting policy and to force the company to amend the policy.
The two employees were suspended without pay for failing to immediately report workplace injuries, per the company’s policy, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, on Feb. 17.
“U.S. Steel’s policy discourages employees from reporting injuries for fear of retaliation,” Richard Mendelson, OSHA’s regional administrator in Philadelphia, said in a statement. “Because workers don’t always recognize injuries at the time they occur, the policy provides an incentive for employees to not report injuries once they realize they should since they are concerned that the timing of their report would violate the company’s policy and result in some kind of reprimand.”
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Both workers suffered injuries in February 2014.
One employee, a full-time utility technician at U.S. Steel’s Clairton, Pa., plant, allegedly removed a small splinter from his thumb. Two days later, his thumb and hand were swollen and he received medical treatment for an infection. When he reported the incident, the company suspended him for five days without pay for violating the company’s policy, later reducing the suspension to two days.
Later that month, a full-time employee at the company’s West Mifflin, Pa., plant, allegedly bumped his head on a low beam. He was wearing a hardhat and claims he didn’t feel any pain or discomfort at the time. However, days later, he experienced stiffness in his right shoulder and sought medical treatment, which was reported to U.S. Steel as a possible worksite injury. He was also suspended for five days without pay.
Both workers filed complaints with OSHA alleging U.S. Steel had suspended them in retaliation for reporting workplace injuries. The agency found the company violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, or Section 11(c) when U.S. Steel used its immediate reporting policy as a basis for sanctioning employees who reported injuries “late.”
In a complaint filed on Feb. 17, the DOL accused U.S. Steel of violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 by enforcing its workplace injury policy and suspending without pay two individuals who reported injuries to the company a few days after the causes of injury occurred but shortly after painful symptoms developed. The suit alleges that the employees did not report their injuries immediately because they were unaware of them.
In a statement on Monday, Philadelphia-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration official Richard Mendelson said that the steel company’s policy should be changed, as it “discourages employees from reporting injuries for fear of retaliation.”
“Because workers don’t always recognize injuries at the time they occur, the policy provides an incentive for employees to not report injuries once they realize they should since they are concerned that the timing of their report would violate the company’s policy and result in some kind of reprimand,” he said.
The DOL is also asking the court to prohibit U.S. Steel from enforcing an injury or illness reporting policy that requires employees to report their workplace injuries or illnesses earlier than seven calendar days after becoming aware of an injury or illness.
A representative for the company said it would not comment on the suit or its reporting policy.
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To date, U.S. Steel has failed to rescind its discipline of either worker in addition to refusing to alter or amend its immediate reporting policy to allow for a reasonable period of time for employees to report worksite injuries.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, the suit seeks the following:
- Enjoining U.S. Steel from violating Section 11(c)(1) of the Act.
- Directing the company to rescind and nullify its immediate reporting policy.
- Permanently enjoining the company from enforcing an injury or illness reporting policy that requires employees to report their workplace injuries or illnesses earlier than seven calendar days after the injured or ill employee becomes aware of his or her injury or illness.
- Rescinding the discipline and sanction of the two employees.
- Directing the company to compensate the complainants for any, and all lost wages and benefits including interest, as well as compensatory damages.
- Directing the company to post notices at all of its work sites for 60 days stating that it will not discriminate or retaliate against employees involved in activities protected by Section 11 (c) of the Act.
The Department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Philadelphia is litigating the case.