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Despite Naval incident, it’s still illegal to retaliate against whistleblowers

While this week has shown retaliation is apparently practiced in the military, the federal Department of Labor nevertheless is reminding employers that it’s illegal to retaliate against workers who report conditions made unsafe because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That means employers can’t fire, demote, deny overtime or promotion or reduce pay or hours for whistleblowers. 

The US Navy did just that this week, though, as it relieved Capt. Brett E. Crozier of his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Thursday after he sent emails complaining of superiors’ lack   of action on concerns about the coronavirus infecting sailors on his ship. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly not only fired Crozier, but on Monday flew to his ship in Guam to address the ship’s crew over loudspeaker, excoriating Crozier’s breech of protocol and calling him stupid. 

Crozier, meanwhile, has tested positive for COVID-19, as have at least 200 crew members. Modly later apologized and then resigned on Tuesday. 

Employers who would like to avoid embarrassment, not to mention legal trouble, might do better to follow the advice of the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration rather than Modly’s example.   

“Employees have the right to safe and healthy workplaces,” said Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant. “Any worker who believes that their employer is retaliating against them for reporting unsafe working conditions should contact OSHA immediately.”

More than 20 statutes protect the rights of whistleblowers against retaliation, and these statutes are enforced by OSHA. The agency also maintains web pages with information about the protections that are offered to whistleblowers and how they might seek help in the event of retaliation. 363-7275