The U.S Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a press release on April 8, 2020, reminding employers that it is illegal to retaliate against workers because they report unsafe and unhealthful working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. Acts of retaliation can include terminations, demotions, denials of overtime or promotion, or reductions in pay or hours.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program webpage provides valuable resources on worker rights, including fact sheets on whistleblower protections for employees in various industries and frequently asked questions.
Whistleblower Protections Under Iowa Code
Iowa law protects an employee who reports an unsafe or unhealthy working environment. An employee is protected from retaliation by any person. The employer may be found to have retaliated against an employee if the protected activity was a contributing or motivating factor in the employer’s decision to take unfavorable action against the employee.
Unfavorable actions include but are not limited to:
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denying benefits
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Firing or laying off
- Making threats
- Reassignment to a less desirable position
- Reducing pay or hours
How Iowa OSHA Determines if Retaliation Took Place
Complaints will be handled according to Iowa OSHA procedures. For a complaint to be considered valid, the investigation must reveal that the:
- employee engaged in protected activity
- employer knew about or suspected the protected activity
- employer took an adverse action
- protected activity motivated or contributed to the adverse action
If the evidence supports the employee’s allegation, Iowa OSHA will work to get wages, benefits and other remedies for the employee.
How to File a Complaint
Complaints may be filed by facsimile, electronic communication, hand delivery during business hours, U.S. mail (confirmation services recommended), or a commercial carrier. The date of the communication is considered the date filed.
Employees have limited rights to refuse a job due to hazardous conditions. Employees may do so only if they:
- may face death or serious injury and the situation is so clearly hazardous that any reasonable person would reach the same conclusion
- tried unsuccessfully to get the employer to correct the condition and there is no other way to do the job
- don’t have time to eliminate the hazard through regulatory channels (such as Iowa OSHA) because the situation is so urgent
Iowa OSHA cannot enforce union contracts that give employees the right to refuse to work. More information can be found by visiting the Federal OSHA Whistleblower page.