On September 26, 2014, OSHA issued a preliminary order that an Illinois employer, Stericycle Inc. (the Company), reinstate and pay $262,000 to a supervisor who was discharged after allegedly reporting safety concerns to management.

The Company specializes in the disposal of biohazard waste. One of its transportation supervisors, a specialist in biohazard waste disposal at its Wichita location, alleged that a driver was instructed to pull a trailer without a valid license plate in contravention of Department of Transportation regulations. The supervisor reported these safety concerns to management, and on September 14, 2012, was discharged. The supervisor subsequently filed a complaint alleging whistleblower retaliation in violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (the STAA).

According to OSHA, the supervisor engaged in protected activity when he reported his safety concerns to management, and his complaint contributed to the decision to terminate his employment.  OSHA ordered Stericycle to reinstate the supervisor, pay him $261,787 in backpay and damages, and remove reference to the discharge decision from his record.  OSHA also ordered Stericycle to distribute to its workforce a notice of their whistleblower rights.

This is yet another example of the vigorous approach OSHA has taken to enforcing a range of whistleblower protection laws.  Query whether the enforceability of the preliminary order will be challenged in federal court proceedings and whether the complainant will choose to pursue the matter before the Department of Labor or in federal court.  We’ll watch this one closely and keep our loyal readers posted.