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Worker allegedly fired for reporting co-worker injury

The U.S. Department of Labor is suing a West Virginia company after it allegedly fired one of its employees two days after she called 911 to report the injury of a co-worker. The owner of the company, Lone Star Western Beef, allegedly told the woman to hang up after she called to seek help for a man who had severed his thumb in a food processor at the plant that makes beef jerky.

The owner of the company allegedly collected the severed portion of the thumb and instructed another person to take him to an urgent care clinic for treatment. The incident occurred in July 2014. He was eventually transferred to a hospital, but physicians weren't able to reattach the portion of the thumb that was severed.

The Department of Labor is suing both the company's owner and the company itself on behalf of the terminated employee for back wages as well as punitive damages. The terminated worker filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA enforces whistleblower protections for people who report safety and other violations.

The OSHA regional administrator in charge of the case says that "Lone Star Western Beef punished an employee for seeking emergency medical care for a seriously injured co-worker….No worker should have to fear retaliation from their employer for calling 911 in an emergency, or taking other action to report a workplace safety or health incident."

The employee who called 911 from her cellphone also claims that the company's owner failed to sanitize or clean up the area where the injury had occurred. She also reported a lack of protective equipment at the plant.

Employees have a right to seek medical help for injured colleagues and to report alleged safety violations without risk of losing their jobs. Anyone who believes that they have lost their job or suffered negative repercussions for doing these things would be wise to determine what their legal rights are.

Source: EHS Today, "DOL Sues Food Manufacturer For Terminating Employee Who Sought Help for Co-Worker," Sandy Smith, Feb. 23, 2017

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