Pest Control Complaints Lead to Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
Pest control at facilities is an obvious problem for occupants and customers alike, but failing to properly manage the situation can leave businesses liable for more than just the insect damage themselves if they mishandle complaints — as exemplified from a recent incident reported by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
While media organizations depend on their reporters’ abilities to expose issues of public concern, a journalist at the Killeen Daily Herald found themselves out of a job when they complained to the newspaper’s management that they believed fleas had infested their workplace, leaving them with bug bites.
Following a whistleblower investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit against the paper, owned by Frank Mayborn Enterprises Inc., after the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found the company violated federal laws that protect workers who report workplace safety and health issues.
OSHA determined that in May and June 2021, the reporter sent messages to company management complaining about the infestation - and the bug bites. The worker then had the bugs examined and learned they identified as “no-see-ums” or “biting midges.” After sharing this additional information with Killeen Daily Herald management, the company responded by terminating the reporter.
“Rather than addressing an employee’s concerns about the safety and health of their workplace, the Killeen Daily Herald terminated their reporter who sought to prevent workplace exposure to unknown diseases carried by the insects,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “The U.S. Department of Labor investigates violations of federal whistleblower statutes and protects workers who exercise their right to raise safety concerns without the fear of retaliation.”
In its Aug. 29, 2022, filing in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, the department alleges the Killeen Daily Herald fired the employee for engaging in protected activity, and asks the court to order the newspaper to comply with the federal anti-retaliation provisions; reinstate and pay the employee back wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages; expunge the employee’s personnel record; and other remedies.
“When employers retaliate against their workers for reporting unsafe working conditions, the department will work vigorously to secure the appropriate legal redress for workers,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor John Rainwater in Dallas. “The department is dedicated to ensuring safe and healthful working conditions guaranteed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
Frank Mayborn Enterprises Inc. owns the Killeen Daily Herald and the Temple Daily Telegram. Established in 1890, the Herald has gone through many ownership changes prior to its acquisition by Mayborn in 1953. The paper claims circulation of more than 13,000 daily readers.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and more than 20 whistleblower statutes. These statutes protect employees from retaliation for reporting violations of workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities and tax laws; as well as for engaging in other related protected activities. Learn more about whistleblower protections.
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