OSHA is suing Whole Foods Market Group to reinstate a fired employee with full back wages and benefits. The employee had expressed concerns to a supervisor about a sewage leak in the store. Three days later, the employee was fired.
The Whole Foods in Miami Beach, FL, experienced a sewage leak on Nov. 1, 2009. According to the Miami New Times, management tried to ignore the problem and covered the smell with air freshener.
The employee told New Times that brown, rank smelling water flooded the cheese aisle. After local management decided to just lock the bathroom doors and cover the problem with air spray, she reported the incident to corporate management.
Then she was fired. The company claimed she reported misleading information.
The employee went to OSHA and the agency investigated. OSHA says its investigation found Whole Foods violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act by unlawfully and intentionally terminating the employee.
OSHA is asking a federal court to issue an order that includes:
- a permanent injunction against Whole Foods to prevent future violations of the whistleblower protections in the OSH Act
- reinstatement of the former employee with full benefits
- payment of back wages, punitive damages and compensatory damages to the employee, and
- removal from the employee’s personnel file of all mentions regarding this case.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various federal laws.
Whole Foods has responded to the accusations, saying it brought in a professional cleaning service to completely clean the sewage backup as soon as it was discovered, contrary to what the whistleblower had said.The entire area was closed for complete cleaning as soon as the problem was discovered. The company denies the employee was retaliated against.