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Ohioans possibly targeted for reporting workplace injuries

A national company may be in hot water with the Labor Department for its treatment of Ohio employees. The Labor Department brought a lawsuit against AT&T on behalf of 13 Ohioans. The agency says the 13 workers reported workplace injuries and that AT&T treated the workers unfairly after the injuries were reported.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is also getting involved in the alleged mistreatment. OSHA claims the national telecommunications company acted in a retaliatory manner against its employees after they reported workplace injuries. These retaliation efforts included suspension without pay. This type of action, if true, violates a federal law meant to protect whistle-blowers. Employers are in violation of the law if they punish or discipline workers for reporting injuries, and that law is the basis for the lawsuit against AT&T.

Workers need to feel comfortable and secure enough in their jobs that they are not afraid to report injuries. When there is fear of retaliation, workers may be less likely to speak up, which means the possibility of more or worse workplace accidents. Ohio workers should also be able to rely on workers' compensation in the event of a work-related injury to cover certain expenses like medical bills.

According to OSHA, during 13 distinct and separate events, AT&T responded to workers' injury reports by sending each reporting employee home. Depending on the situation, suspensions ranged from one day to three. AT&T initially responded that the employee suspensions were based on violations of corporate safety rules. But, OSHA's investigation into the matter quickly discounted this defense.

The Labor Department filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio's Eastern Division. The suit is an important step for the injured employees and for the Ohio workforce in general. Those who are injured in a workplace accident can also protect themselves by filing a workers' compensation claim. This individual claim will also bring workplace safety into the spotlight and deter employers from acting in a negligent fashion in the future.

Source: The Hill, "Feds sue AT&T over worker treatment," Julian Hattern, Feb. 10, 2014

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