Safety and OSHA News

Family sues, claiming excessive overtime caused worker’s death

The family of a man who worked at a slaughterhouse is suing his former employer, claiming excessive overtime hours doing strenuous work in cold conditions contributed to his death. 

The family of Bao Min Cheng filed the suit against Hallmark Poultry Processor Ltd. in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada.

The lawsuit says Cheng died from heart failure on March 22, 2013, shortly after working a 13-hour shift at the Hallmark chicken slaughterhouse in Vancouver, BC. He was 40 and is survived by his wife and four children.

Cheng worked 60 to 70 hours per week, spread over six days, for 50 weeks a year, according to court documents. His job included lifting chicken carcasses from a conveyor belt and placing them on hooks at or above Cheng’s head level in a refrigerated environment.

He worked for Hallmark for 7.5 years, specifically at the job lifting the carcasses for the last four years.

The lawsuit says Cheng earned minimum wage and was paid time-and-a-half over 40 hours per week.

Cheng had a heart condition, according to court documents which caused high blood pressure. The suit claims his medical condition was “not immediately life threatening,” and his high blood pressure could be treated effectively with medication.

The lawsuit also claims another worker at the Hallmark plant died exactly one year after Cheng after working similar, excessive overtime.

“A minimum reasonable step would have been to cap the number of hours worked to 50 hours per week,” the lawsuit states. The court filing also suggests Hallmark had its employees work lots of overtime so it didn’t have to hire new employees when orders for chicken meat increased.

“As a result of [Hallmark’s] actions or failure to act, [Hallmark] caused or contributed to [Cheng’s] death, which has deprived his wife and children of his income, the sole source of money for the family,” the lawsuit states.

The suit doesn’t specify an amount sought but requests relief for general damages, punitive damages, costs and interest.

When contacted by CBC News, Hallmark said the company wasn’t aware of the civil claim and had no other comment.

What do you think about this lawsuit? What should constitute excessive overtime? Let us know in the comments below.

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