A Florida security contractor is being sued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) after allegedly terminating a worker with safety concerns regarding COVID-19 exposure and firearm storage protocols.
The worker filed a retaliation complaint with OSHA following their termination, leading to an investigation and lawsuit by the DOL in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
VRP Group Inc., doing business as Regius Investigations and Protective Services, is accused of illegally firing the worker in August 2020, shortly after the worker texted supervisors on a secure messaging app to report hazardous working conditions.
The company notified the worker of their termination using the same messaging app, according to a DOL news release.
Move to temporary housing prompts safety concerns
The worker was part of a group of Regius employees assigned to work for Entergy Texas to secure property near Port Arthur.
This group was initially based in a hotel but was later moved to temporary housing at another location.
The worker was concerned about the move and conflicts that would arise with social distancing and firearm storage policies, and they brought these concerns to supervisors via the secure messaging app.
Terminated for making safety complaint
An investigation by OSHA found that the company violated federal whistleblower provisions for terminating the employee for engaging in the protected activities of making a good faith health and safety complaint.
In its complaint, the department asks the court to order VRP Group to:
- permanently restrain the company from violating the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act
- pay the employee damages, plus interest, for all past and future lost wages and benefits resulting from the termination
- reimburse the employee for costs and expenses; compensatory damages, including compensation for emotional pain and distress; and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial
- expunge the employee’s unlawful termination from company records, and
- post a notice for employees stating the company won’t discriminate against employees for engaging in activities protected by the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act.