What can an employee do when they are exposed to hazardous conditions at work?

When businesses disregard known potential health risks and order their employees to work despite the hazardous condition, they can be found liable for serious violation of labor laws and thus, face potential legal consequences including lawsuits.

An employer in Thornton, Colorado is going to have to pay out thousands of dollars to its employees over claims of discrimination and retaliation.

Plumbing business forces workers to be exposed to carbon monoxide

The defendant in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is AMI Mechanical, Inc., a local company that performs mostly plumbing and mechanical work for a number of different businesses in the Denver area. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Latino workers who were assigned to sewer duty in dangerous conditions, and were subjected to the use of racist language by their superiors for a number of years, starting in 2014. The spaces in the sewers at job sites contained levels of carbon monoxide and other hazards that made them unsuitable for workers. There was at least one documented incident where a worker suffered from health problems directly related to carbon monoxide exposure. Evidence presented in the case tended to show that white workers with similar backgrounds and levels of experience did not have to work in these harsh conditions. One employee was even threatened by a supervisor when he expressed concern over the dangerous working conditions.

AMI Mechanical terminated an employee who was about to resign over the poor working conditions and attempted to cover up the fact that OSHA had previously cited the company for related problems. The EEOC specifically noted the fact that destruction or omission of such citation records is a violation of labor regulations. The relevant details of the settlement agreement include payments of approximately $80,000 to the affected workers and mandatory revision and review of the company’s policies and procedures for discrimination and related matters. AMI has denied any wrongdoing after agreeing to the settlement terms.

How are hazardous working conditions proven?

Many lawsuits that involve hazardous working conditions point to evidence that the company knew or should have been aware of such conditions based on previous incidents or sanctions, or through violations of their own written operating procedures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), is the federal agency that handles the majority of employee complaints regarding exposure to harmful chemicals or hazardous working conditions. OSHA also has the authority to reprimand companies that violate these procedures through fines and sanctions. Evidence of reports made by OSHA or other disciplinary actions taken by OSHA against an employer can become evidence in a related employment discrimination or retaliation lawsuit.

Federal and state regulations protect the basic rights of all workers not to be injured or exposed to obvious and known hazards while engaged in their employment duties. As the story above demonstrates, employers can also find themselves in trouble if they retaliate against workers for reporting health and safety problems by removing the complainant from their position, or subjecting him to the continuing hazardous conditions by force or threat.

What are employers required to do under OSHA regulations?

Most businesses are required to post notices about OSHA regulations or provide their employees with informational pamphlets and materials to inform their employees of their rights. Employers are also required to train employees in safety procedures relevant and related to their industry and keep complete records of any injuries, accidents, or other work place incidents.

When are the regulations activated in the workplace?

Certain conditions must be met in order to prove in a court of law that a worker is being forcefully subjected to hazardous conditions. These include a reasonable belief that the hazardous conditions present a real risk of injury or death to the employee, the employer knew of the condition but did nothing to fix or mitigate the hazard before asking the employee to return to work, the threat of immediate or imminent harm to the employee does not allow him the time to report such conditions to OSHA and wait for a response and investigation, and the employee knew of no alternative way of working around the hazard. When all of these conditions have been satisfied, the worker has the right to refuse to continue working until and unless his employer takes actions to fix the hazard.

Get help from a lawyer to make sense of these issues

It can be difficult for workers to make all of these determinations at the time of the accident or when the hazardous conditions first occur. That is why it is best to document any known problems or conditions with as much factual details as possible and retain the services of an employment lawyer to learn how to proceed and whether you have a claim. This will help provide a better chance of success with a later lawsuit or action through the EEOC. An attorney can also help employees figure out the proper application of these regulations to their situation, as they are experts in the field and can provide advice regarding the specific industry.

Talk to an expert employment attorney today

To get help after any incident of retaliation, discrimination, harassment, or any other claims related to labor and employment law, contact Anderson Barkley Attorneys at Law. The firm is focused exclusively on helping workers and consumers in Denver and the surrounding Denver metropolitan areas.