The U.S. Department of Labor is suing DKS Structural Services for allegedly firing an employee who refused to work in unsafe conditions.
According to the complaint, DKS fired an employee after he refused to enter a 15-foot trench that did not have adequate safety measures to prevent cave-ins. OSHA inspected and sided with the worker claiming DKS and its owner Jeffrey Kennedy violated Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who report or refuse to work in unsafe conditions:
On Jan. 16, the employee was directed to work in trenches between 6 and 15 feet deep at the company’s job site in Huntsville. The walls of one trench, measured at approximately 15 feet deep, began to slide and cave in. The ladder that was used to get into and out of the trench broke from the dirt and mud caving in. After the ladder broke, the employee was directed to access the inside of the same trench by being lowered in the bucket of a backhoe. The employee complained that he did not want to go back into such a deep trench without protection from further cave-ins. The employer allegedly told him “to get in the hole or go home.” The employee refused to get back into the unprotected excavation and immediately was fired.
The lawsuit seeks back wages, interest, and punitive damages for the employee. It also seeks to expunge the employee’s personal records in matters of this case.
“When an employer fails to correct a hazardous condition, workers have the right to refuse to enter an unsafe area without fearing retaliation,” said Cindy Coe, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta. “Employers violating this basic right will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
OSHA also found other “willful” and “serious” violations related to excavation and personal protective equipment standards during their investigation. DKS was issued citations that carry up to $122,400 in fines.