Fear of Retaliation – Unreported Work Injuries

Stoltze & Stoltze PLC

A complaint about employer retaliation posted on the Des Moines Register’s Readers Watchdog in November has shaken things up at Des Moines Public Works. The tip posted by an unnamed employee said workers were not reporting on-the-job injuries for fear of being ‘written up’ prompting an investigation by Iowa OSHA.

Research reveals that work place injuries are often under reported, especially in government, because of the threat of OSHA inspections and higher workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Because of the negative consequences a company may face, employees sometimes feel hesitant to report injuries for fear of losing their jobs or being subjected to other forms of retaliation.

Section 88.9 of the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Act states “no person shall discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint [i.e., on-the-job injury]…or because of any right afforded by this act.” In other words, reporting an on-the-job injury should not cost you your job (wrongful termination) or result in any other negative employment actions. However, just to be clear, Des Moines policy does allow an employee to be disciplined when injuries are caused through their own negligence or if they fail to report an injury.

Although the employee’s tip did not result in a finding of employer retaliation, following their investigation, OSHA did fine the City of Des Moines for a lack of training and not being able to provide records related to on-the-job injuries. The City claims the work related injuries are down due to stepped-up training, particularly in the area of slip, trips and falls, undermining the employee’s claim that employees are not reporting injuries for fear of disparate treatment. The manager says the city is self-insured, so increases in workers’ comp costs would not be an issue for them.

Iowa employees are covered by the Iowa workers’ compensation law under most employment relationships and most employers are required by law to purchase workers’ compensation liability insurance. However, a procedure exists that permits employers to self-insured rather than purchase insurance, subject to approval. However, on-the-job injuries can cost self-insured cities and counties big time as they are on the hook for the claim instead of the insurer, which might also give an employee pause when deciding whether or not to report an injury.

Iowa Employment Retaliation Lawyers

If you have been injured at work, contact the workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers of Stoltze & Stoltze PLC to get the compensation you need following a work injury. If you have been subject to a negative employment action such as wrongful termination or retaliation, our employment law attorneys can help you fight for your rights. Contact us for a free and confidential consultation at515.989.8529.

Source: Des Moines West Register, OSHA Fines D.M. $3,500 for Public Works Injuries, by Lee Rood, March 20, 2018.