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Firing employees who report unsafe working conditions is illegal

Texas employees who work in conditions that are unsafe and unhealthy have a legal right to report their employers to federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. At least 22 statutes protect whistleblowers from retaliation initiated by their employers after filing a complaint about illegal activity. Prohibitions against retaliation encompass many forms of adverse actions, such as job termination, demotion, cut in hours, cut in pay, harassment, intimidation and denial of benefits.

To enable people to report violations, OSHA has announced an update to the agency's online complaint form. Users have a choice of filling out the form in English or Spanish, and workers will have an opportunity to report any retaliation that they have already experienced. Allegations about retaliation need to be reported within 30 to 180 days of an incident.

The form guides a worker through a range of questions. The system displays pop-up windows to provide extra information about the other federal agencies that might also respond to the complaint. The passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 established whistleblower protections, and the U.S. Congress has expanded the scope of the law over the years to address the needs of specific industries like public transportation, nuclear power and airlines.

Someone who has complained about working conditions and then suffered retaliation could consult an attorney about employee rights. An attorney might recommend a lawsuit against the employer to recover damages from a wrongful termination or demotion. After reviewing the details of the case, an attorney could cite the laws that the employer violated within court filings. A settlement for such a case might include compensation for lost pay and benefits, reinstatement to a position or punitive damages.

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