An OSHA whistleblower investigation has a dentist squirming in the regulatory exam chair, so to speak. It is also a reminder that workplace safety violations aren't the only way that dental and medical practices can run afoul of OSHA.
Citing violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act, OSHA filed a complaint in federal court against Niles (OH) Family Dentistry, and its owner Dr. A. Scott Santucci for allegedly "creating a hostile work environment for two employees and forcing them to resign," according to a July 6 new OSHA news release.
The complaint alleges that Santucci harassed two employees because he suspected them of reporting two mercury spills to OSHA on June 6, 2010, according to the release. The harassment included reducing work hours, cursing, and threatening an employee who refused to work until the spill areas were cleaned by personnel trained in mercury clean-up procedures, according to OSHA.
"Failing to protect workers from known hazardous substances such as mercury is inexcusable," said Michael Connors, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago. "Taking retaliatory action against employees for reporting safety concerns is a clear violation of the law."
OSHA is seeking: (1) reinstatement of both employees' positions; (2) payment of lost wages, benefits, interest, and punitive damages; and (3) removal of negative comments relevant to protected activities from employment records.
OSHA also is asking the court to require the dental practice to post a nondiscrimination notice about employees who engage in protected activities such as reporting safety violations to OSHA.
OSHA's whistleblower responsibility includes oversight on 21 statutes that protect employees from reporting violations of federal law.