An Austin, Texas, Porsche dealership must pay $15,000 in compensatory damages to a whistleblower who was terminated after informing coworkers of their COVID-19 exposure risk, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced March 27.
On March 20, Labor Department (DOL) attorneys obtained a consent judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, compelling Hi Tech Imports LLC, operating as Porsche Austin, to pay damages to the terminated employee.
In December 2020, the employee of the luxury auto dealership learned that a coworker had tested positive for COVID-19 and alerted the company’s management, requesting that they notify other employees immediately of their exposure risk.
After the employer took no steps to notify workers, the employee e-mailed all company employees about the potential hazard. Less than an hour later, the car dealer terminated the employee, according to OSHA.
Following an OSHA whistleblower investigation that found the dealership illegally retaliated against the employee, violating whistleblower protections of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the DOL filed a lawsuit in October 2021.
In a related case, the DOL and the National Labor Relations Board negotiated an agreement on July 26, 2022, between the employee and Hi Tech Motorcars LLC, Hi Tech Imports LLC, Hi Tech Luxury Imports LLC, and Hi Tech Partners LLC that required the company to pay the employee $116,231 in back wages and to reinstate the employee to the employee’s previous position.
OSHA’s whistleblower protection authority was established in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to protect workers who lodge safety or health complaints or cooperate with agency investigations of workplace safety and health violations. OSHA is now responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints under more than 20 federal statutes.
“Retaliating against employees who report workplace safety and health concerns is illegal,” Eric S. Harbin, OSHA’s Dallas regional administrator, said in an agency statement. “In this case, an employee raised legitimate concerns about a potential coronavirus hazard at the car dealership where they worked. Such good faith alerts others to possible risks and makes workplaces safer.”
According to the agency, Hi Tech Imports is an automotive dealer group that sells and services vehicles made by luxury manufacturers like Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, Maserati, Porsche, and Rolls-Royce.
Lawn service contractor faces $198K fine for willful, serious violations
A California lawn services contractor faces proposed penalties totaling $198,667 for willful and serious safety violations at its operations at the Fort Campbell Army Base in Kentucky, OSHA announced March 24.
Agency inspectors determined that PRIDE Industries, a Roseville, California, contractor employed at the base, willfully allowed workers to operate zero-turn-radius mowers without belt guards installed.
Serious violations identified in the OSHA inspection included:
- Exposing employees to potential lacerations and serious eye injury by permitting them to operate mowers with shoot guards in a tied-up position,
- Putting workers at risk of crushing injuries or death in a rollover by allowing employees to operate zero-turn mowers on slopes steeper than 15 degrees,
- Exposing employees to potential lacerations by allowing the unsafe operation of a bench grinder, and
- Allowing workers to operate a tractor without a cover on the power takeoff or PTO shaft.
“Violations like those found in this inspection show the company’s disregard for their workers’ safety,” William Cochran, OSHA’s Nashville, Tennessee, area office director, said in an agency statement.