California employees should feel safe when they go to work. Employers have safety guidelines that they should be following in order to make sure that employees really are safe. When employees see that safety regulations are not being met, they have the right to report these violations to the appropriate authority. Furthermore, under employee laws California employees cannot be fired for reporting unsafe working conditions.
However, some California employers fail to follow both of these rules. Take, for example, a recent wrongful termination case. In this case, a 44-year-old California man worked for a local power company. In one job in 2011, the man and a couple of crew members were asked to do power line repairs to a particular power line. However, the company refused to allow the workers to shut off power to the area. During the work, the power lines came within inches of causing an explosion.
Following this episode, the man no longer felt safe at work and reported his feelings. He started to suffer from panic attacks and other health problems. He eventually took a leave of absence from his job to focus on his health. During that absence his boss called him repeatedly to ask him to come to work to discuss his safety concerns. However, the worker refused and was fired.
After his termination, the worker filed a wrongful termination suit claiming that he had been fired for reporting the safety violations. In his suit, the worker asked for emotional distress damages, lost benefits and lost wages. Recently, a jury agreed with the worker and awarded him $500,000 for his emotional distress, $595,615 for lost benefits and wages and legal fees. The power company says it will appeal.
This case provides an example of how employee laws protect California workers from illegal retaliation. Workers who have faced retaliation at work because they have reported safety concerns, should know that they have legal rights.
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, “PG&E worker wins $1 million in Santa Cruz wrongful termination lawsuit,” Stephen Baxter, Dec. 15, 2013