OSHA has ordered a company to rehire an engineer working on a nuclear plant project and pay him back wages and other costs in a whistleblower case. The engineer had said actions taken by his employer at the nuclear plant could “end up like the situation they had in Japan.”
Enercon Services Inc. must pay $261,152 in back wages, compensatory damages and interest to a senior engineer following an investigation by OSHA. The company will also have to pay the employee’s attorney’s fees.
OSHA found Enercon violated the whistleblower provisions of the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA) by wrongfully terminating the engineer for raising safety concerns during construction projects at the Wolf Creek Generating Station in Burlington, KS.
The licensed professional civil and structural engineer was fired on Jan. 30, 2012, for reporting breaches of minimum soil coverage requirements for emergency service water piping and for refusing to provide Enercon with an engineering justification for the use of concrete as backfill over the piping.
A trench dug to bury a grounding cable for a new security fence being constructed for an emergency service water pump house encroached on the minimum soil coverage for the pipes, requiring that it be backfilled to bring the plant back into compliance.
Evidence from OSHA’s investigation shows an Enercon manager proposed to backfill the pipes with concrete, but the engineer refused to implement the design change because he believed concrete fill was insufficient. The engineer was fired a few days later. Wolf Creek eventually used soil as backfill.
OSHA has ordered Enercon to reinstate the engineer to his former job with all pay and benefits and to pay $206,360 in back wages, $4,142 in interest and $50,650 in compensatory damages. Whistleblowers can’t recover punitive damages under the ERA.
Enercon says it will appeal the decision to establish that the firing was for legitimate reasons and not for reporting safety concerns.
The unidentified engineer told the Associated Press he felt he was acting as a “responsible individual.” Whistleblowers aren’t identified in OSHA investigations.
“You should be able to feel free to exercise your right if you see something that is wrong,” the engineer told the AP. “You should have freedom to go to supervisors or superiors and let them know what you have observed and not have any fear of retaliation.”
OSHA enforces the whisleblower provisions of the ERA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of safety regulations and other laws.