Nevada law and federal law both prohibit employers from retaliating against an employee for filing a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) or participating in an OSHA investigation. Retaliation is also illegal if an employee refuses to work under conditions unreasonably dangerous to the employee.
Retaliation might include termination, demotion, a pay cut, denial of benefits or a promotion, or other discipline. These whistleblower laws exist to encourage employees to report health and safety violations to OSHA in order to help protect employees and the public.
If an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising his or her rights under OSHA, then the employee has two avenues of relief: (1) file a retaliation complaint with OSHA; or (2) hire an attorney to file a lawsuit in court.
Filing a Retaliation Complaint with OSHA
One option is to file a complaint with OSHA–either the Nevada Department of Industrial Relations or the U.S. Department of Labor. A complaint for retaliation must be filed within 30 days of the retaliatory act. The government agency will then have 90 days to investigate the complaint and decide whether it wants to bring an action against the employer. If the employee wins, then remedies are limited to reinstatement to a position and lost wages and benefits.
Hiring an Attorney to File a Lawsuit in Court
Another option is to file a private lawsuit in court with the help of an attorney. An employee can file a lawsuit even if the employee didn’t file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the retaliation. In a private lawsuit, the remedies can be greater than filing a complaint with OSHA because the employee can be reinstated, recover lost wages and benefits, and receive punitive damages.
Although an internal complaint within the company can be a basis for action by OSHA, an employee may not file a private lawsuit in court unless the employee took affirmative action to expose illegal or unsafe practices to appropriate government authorities outside the company–an internal report to a manager or executive of the employer is not enough. If the employee only reported the violation within the company, then he or she may still file a complaint with OSHA, if the complaint is filed within 30 days of the violation.
Contact me today if your employer has retaliated against you for exercising your rights under OSHA, or if you need to defend against an OSHA retaliation claim in Nevada.