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In the News: US Steel’s Workplace Policies and Practices Successfully Challenged by OSHA

Our attorneys at Kozloff Stoudt strive to provide comprehensive legal services to clients seeking skilled and competent assistance to those facing the challenges of civil law.  Having been recognized as the “People’s Choice” for lawyers in Berks County, PA for each of the past four years,  we believe that it is our responsibility to take an active role in keeping our clientele informed about changes to the law that could potentially impact their lives and businesses.  In our latest “In the News” segment, we provide an update about the recent efforts of United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to challenge the workplace policies and activities of one of Pennsylvania’s most famous employers, U.S. Steel.

In February 2014, two seemingly minor incidents at U.S. Steel’s factories produced stiff punishments against its blue-collar employees:

Jeff Walters, a utility technician at U.S. Steel’s Clairton, Pennsylvania steel plant, noticed that a small splinter had lodged in his thumb.  Having quickly extracted the splinter, the technician saw no need to report the seemingly benign injury to his supervisor.  But two days later, his hand began to swell from an infection that ultimately required medical treatment.

John Armstrong, a laborer at its West Mifflin, Pennsylvania plant, bumped his hard hat into a low beam but caused no immediate sensation of pain or discomfort.  Within a few days, however, he began to experience shoulder stiffness and sought belated medical treatment.

After these gentlemen belatedly reported their injuries to their respective supervisors, U.S. Steel suspended the two men without pay for five days each for violating its injury reporting policy.  At the time, U.S. Steel required employees to immediately report all workplace injuries to their supervisors.

In response to these punishments, the employees filed retaliation complaints with OSHA.  Although OSHA determined that these employees were discriminated against for reporting their workplace injuries under a policy that effectively promotes the under-reporting of injuries out of fear of punishment, U.S. Steel refused to rescind the suspensions or make any changes to its injury reporting policy so as to permit employees additional time to report delayed pain or discomfort.

Following U.S. Steel’s refusal to make changes to its policy in response to OSHA’s findings, the United States Department of Labor filed Federal lawsuits on behalf of the two men to force U.S. Steel to implement a more accommodating injury reporting policy and to provide the employees with compensation for the unlawful suspensions. In an effort to discontinue the litigation, a settlement agreement was ultimately reached between the parties, requiring U.S. Steel to allows its employees to report injuries either prior to leaving their plant or within eight hours of the discovery of their injuries.

This incident, however, was not the only encounter that U.S. Steel had with the workplace safety regulators at OSHA.  In August 2016, U.S. Steel was fined $170,000.00 following seven reports of employee exposure to asbestos. Five workers were found to have removed asbestos-containing packing materials, while two others were instructed to burn rotten expansion pipes that were later found to have contained asbestos.  After these incidents had been reported to OSHA, an administrative inspection led to the identification of 10 workplace violations.  Because this was the second known instance in which the company failed to inform employees of asbestos-containing material since 2011, OSHA levied the substantial fine as a deterrent to future violations.

The courageous decision of these employees to challenge these unlawful working conditions and policies can be attributed in large part to the protection that OSHA provides to whistleblowers.

The distinguished legal team at Kozloff Stoudt strives to provide employees and employers with excellent representation in matters involving the entire range of labor issues, particularly those involving workplace health and safety.  Employees and employers encountering litigation involving workplace discrimination, the denial of employee benefits, sexual harassment and wrongful termination can rely on Kozloff Stoudt Attorneys for effective and dedicated representation of their legal interests.

Clients seeking a workplace discrimination lawyer or a personal injury attorney in the Reading, PA can rely on us for their legal needs. For more information, our offices can be contacted by calling  610-370-6700 or through our website http://www.kozloffstoudt.com.

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