Being an Abusive Boss can get you Fined by OSHA

by Michael Haberman on April 4, 2013 · 27 comments


 

An abusive boss can be sued and fined under OSHA whistleblower protection.

An abusive boss can be sued and fined under OSHA whistleblower protection.

The term “abusive boss” can cover a lot of different things. Most of us probably think in terms of sexual harassment or discrimination. If this is the case we know that an employee can file a case with the EEOC. But what about other situations? What about a situation where violence is threatened? The answer may surprise you because, as it turns out, being an abusive boss can get your fined by OSHA.

The case

In a February 6, 2013 news release OSHA announced that they are suing a company in Florida because the boss’ behavior led an employee to believe a possibility of workplace violence existed. The employee confronted the boss with their concern and apparently the boss did not take too kindly to it. The employee then filed a retaliation complaint. Well that displeased the boss even more and when he received the complaint of retaliation the boss then cut off access to the computers for this employee and promptly fired them.

That course of action did not sit well with OSHA. As Teresa Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Atlanta said “Employees have the right to raise workplace violence concerns without fear of retaliation. OSHA will continue to enforce the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act to protect employees who report violations.”

The mistakes and the remedy

The boss made a several mistakes.

  1. First, he was being an abusive jerk and that is bad management. He was making himself a perceived safety hazard.
  2. He reacted by retaliating against the employee by cutting off access to the computer system not allowing the person to perform their job.
  3. Then he terminated the person’s employment for complaining about a safety hazard. That is directly a violation of the OSH Act.

OSHA is suing the company for back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as front pay in lieu of reinstatement. Additionally, it seeks to have the employee’s personnel records expunged with respect to the matters at issue in this case and to bar the employer against future violations of the OSH Act. He had better mind himself in the future, because if he is truly an abusive boss other employees now know that they have some recourse to deal with the situation as well.

The police power of OSHA

As I reported on March 19, 2013 in OSHA and the Affordable Care Act: What is that connection? OSHA is responsible for investigating and punishing retaliation for 22 different statutes. They will investigate such things as:

  • Firing or laying off
  • Blacklisting
  • Demoting
  • Denying overtime or promotion
  • Disciplining
  • Denial of benefits
  • Failure to hire or rehire
  • Intimidation
  • Making threats
  • Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion
  • Reducing pay or hours

The summary of the program reads:

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than twenty whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. Rights afforded by these whistleblower acts include, but are not limited to, worker participation in safety and health activities, reporting a work related injury, illness or fatality, or reporting a violation of the statutes.

For further information on the breadth of their investigatory powers click here.

What you can do

This points out how important proper knowledge of good management practices is and making supervisors and managers how critical their behavior is to the success of the company. Understanding how their behavior can get the company in hot water is an important training step.

(Hat tip to Howard Mavity of Fisher & Phillips. LLC for his article Cussing Out Your Employee May Get You Sued…By OSHA?)

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Rick April 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

Was the case settled outside of court or did the person win the lawsuit? Or is it still ongoing? I didn’t see it mentioned in the article. It will be interesting to see how it plays out if the case goes through the full legal process rather than being settled outside of court.

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Michael Haberman April 4, 2013 at 9:38 am

Rick:
As far as I know there is no resolution to this yet.

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Dawn February 25, 2015 at 11:22 am

When your Supervisor/Office Manager continues to downgrade and have outburts (of which she denies and says I’m lying) then what are my options. I live in a small town where work is hard to come by so I took this position (Secretary) in hopes of moving up some day. She has stooped as low as to inform me that I will never be moved from this position as long as I’m here. I worked with the Company doing Medical Billing several years before Economy took a dive and that part of the Company was closed so I was laid off. When the Secretary quit they called me back and I accepted with hopes of moving up some day but with no one backing me and continuing to make abusive remarks to me I see it will never be. I’m not allowed to discuss anything within the Company to no one but her. We have four Partners that own the Business and one is her very close friend. If there’s any advice you can give me I would appreciate it. I go home crying, I cry prior to going to work..all because of this mean and very unprofessional Manager. She has even talked down at me in front of Clients and I have to apologize for her behavior. This is just getting too much. I run the whole front which includes answering the phone alone for 16 plus employess due to them hiring more Accountants and Bookkeepers. I assemble all Returns, Review all with every Client, accept all payments other than Credit Cards of which I’m not allowed to take, Assist majority of the Clients with their questions and yet I’m NOT Doing Enough. My workload has increased by about 40% and she expects me to be a speed demon. I get fussed at for not following up with all the Clients of completed Returns in a Timely manner but how is it possible I ask when I’m the only one to answer ALL incoming calls. I cannot get her to understand this. I feel she wants me to quit but I really need my job. She came at me 3 times yesterday to Fuss & tell me She Know’s I Don’t Like Her & She Feels the Same way but we’ve got to make it work…I just want to know how to make something work that she doomed from the time of my hire.

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Michael Haberman March 4, 2015 at 11:38 am

Dawn, that is a miserable situation to be in and I feel for you. Unfortunately, under Federal law anyway, being a bully is not illegal. And she is a bully. Pay attention to what she says, if she starts making reference to your age, gender, race, etc. then you might have a basis of complaint under EEOC. I would encourage you to find a different job as best you can if you feel you have no opportunity to correct this by talking to the partners. Any co-workers willing to back you up?

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oscar de castro February 28, 2015 at 9:38 pm

I’m a formen at a contruction site and the superviser lately is being a real jerk by saking me if I’m using drugs he threatened me if the building wouldn’t pass inspection last Thursday re was going to fire me on Friday he asked me if i was drinking because i smells like alcohol i don’t work on saturday but i was going to come in just to help he said if I’m late that on monday i was giing to be fired and i don’t even get pay to come in on saturday is that ilegal what he’s doing? Can he or the company be sued?

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Michael Haberman March 4, 2015 at 11:32 am

Oscar, he is definitely being a jerk, but unfortunately being a jerk is not illegal. If he were making these threats based on your race, or age, or ethnicity they you might have a case for harassment. If you have access to a human resources department it might be good to talk to them. Good luck on working with this guy.

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Jason Bailey November 3, 2015 at 3:09 am

Kirstie Carrier writes me up for sending her an inbox message on FB. she said she never read it or anything. But later I realized this was her opportunity to get my signature on a write-up paper. She quickly stuffed that paper into her desk drawer where she said nobody will see it. Then dismissed me to return to work. I did return to work.
Recently at Cash Magic Lake Charles, where I had been working since 8/5/2014. I was written up for mentioning to my assistant manager something about me sending a picture of the accident in front of the Casino. She immediately wanted to write me up over it. But yet she’s corresponding and also is friends with many others that work there. Kirstie Carrier is my manager that then after she writes a little short line at the top. I sat and took instruction and in the future not message her on Facebook. She took that singed write-up then forged the rest of it in the printer and added so much more frivolous junk to it that it makes it look like I’m a careless employee. Untruths that never occurred were on there. I beg someone over there please this was no fault t of my own extreme wrongful bullying me from the Manager in the workplace. I’m sure they think I’m stupid because I was in LD as a child; but that just means I learn differently. I noticed on the schedule I was setup for 4 days off. I pretended to be happy about the 4 days off. I was also very suspicious and 2 days at night called the front desk security Veronica. She explained that earlier she saw I’m supposed to be at work on the 3rd and 4th days. It was a clear setup for a no/call no/show which is termination grounds. I panicked and arrived at work 24 hours before i would have been scheduled for. I spoke with Dane (the general manager) and he said that yes i was fired. I have also recorded the firing interview with my phone. As I was a participating speaker being recorded. I just want my job back and I have loyal customers wanting to sign petitions and contacting me wanting to either go where I go. I need a rep from wrongful termination & labor board to arrive unannounced and collect all my personnel papers especially the write-ups. I’m sure something else can be done. I’ve asked 3 or more times in the past that Kirstie Carrier stop bullying me or I’ll take it up with someone who can fix it. Such as the sole owner Jeffery Jacobs (CO).
Wrongful Termination
I am a: Other: i felt i was bullied to resign
The job termination was wrongful because: Other: Manager singles me out to bully me and lie on the wrieups where she reruns it back thru the printer to add whatever she wants. Lible/Falsification Misrepresentation of the facts.
Is the employee still working for the employer: No. Last day of employment was: 09/02/2015
How did you leave the company?: Forced to resign
Date of hire: 08/05/2014
Occupation / job title: Casino Host/Floor Runner
Gross annual income: $nn,nnn or less
The employer is a: Privately held corporation
The employer is involved in this type of industry: Other: Casino
The employer has the following number of employees: 1-15
What type of employment contract do you have: At-will employment – either party can terminate- where the law is broken is when she falsified documents.
A complaint was filed with the: No complaint was filed with a federal or state employment agency

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Mona shahan February 5, 2016 at 6:54 pm

My boss in several times had treat if i go to human resources i will lost my job
This is legal?

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Michael Haberman February 9, 2016 at 11:10 am

Mona:
A lot of things are possible, but in this particular case that would be retaliation and that is definitely illegal. I would encourage you to go to HR and complain about your original complaint and the fact that you boss has threatened to fire you for filing a complaint.

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krista February 8, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Im a barber and work for a man who be littles me and screams at me in front of clients which is starting to give me anxiety!. He verbally abuses me on a daily basis by flying off the handle if i have questions concerns, or even speak to him on how he has been making me feel. He starts screaming more at me told me he can do whatever he wants and if i dont like i can get the f*** out. I come home shaking cause of the feeling he gives me when i leave that place. I have brought him a lot of buisness and work as much as I can. He will not give me a key so he does not show up to open the shop and i am sitting in the parking lot til half hour after he shows up, meanwhile customers are coming and leaving cause they do not want to wait. He has to go to the doctor for a procedure and instead of leaving a key or opening the shop I am forced to take the day which i will be losing money on that day. I really have no idea if this is legal or what i should do cause i do not feel comfortable working for a man like this. He can never keep employees for long because of the way he is. Today its hard to find work. Im stuck and need advise on what I should do.

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Michael Haberman February 9, 2016 at 11:07 am

Hey Krista:
I am sorry to hear about your situation, but unfortunately the small business owner you work for is just a bad manager and owner. On a Federal level there is no protection, the company is not covered by federal law until it reaches 15 employees. There may be some state law, depending on where you are located, that might offer some protection, but even that is unlikely. I realize changing jobs is tough, but I suggest you remove yourself. Find out where the customers go when they can come to your shop and go apply there. Don’t allow yourself to continue to be a victim.

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B Johnson March 16, 2016 at 10:45 am

My boss is a woman she is also the president and she is also HR. She’s smart and from what I see a compassionate person except her compassion stops at my door. Her remarks to me I would expect from a bully and inappropriate.
I love my work I enjoy my work but I don’t enjoy the Hot Shots she likes to take at me.
I seem to have been singled out. I do my best to avoid her but my gut feeling is that she wants me gone.
I’ve been at this company for 15 years and I’m over 50 years old and would prefer not to get a new job since I enjoy what I do. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?
B

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Michael Haberman March 29, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Ms. Johnson, rather than avoiding her why not sit down with her and let her know that she “hurts” you with her comments. Being miserable is not the way to go through your work life, when a conversation might clear it up. Just a suggestion.

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Carolyn P May 4, 2016 at 7:22 pm

I am an office administrator. I have been employed for 10 yrs. In one occasion while i was on vacation my boss asked one of the employees to go through my stuff on my desk and make copies of all office passwords which he already had. Later on implying that i was stealing from the company. Being that he didn’t fine anything he didn’t approach me. But left a awfully thought to the staff that i supervise. Than he got sick and made changes to everyone’s hours by cutting a day out to each and cutting a 20% of my salary. And expected me to do their job while i had already a plate full. Than after 3 weeks he adjusted everybody’s schedule back to full-time and kept me with my pay cut. Is this behavior considers my boss to be an abusive boss? Is there anything you advice… thank you.

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Joel May 6, 2016 at 3:21 pm

Ok so I work for a boss for over 10 years. I wanted to be promoted to salesmen since I know the ins and outs of the company. So when I ask him about the position he tells me ” this is a good ole boy scene. Considering I’m Hispanic . The other thing is I’m on salary just like any other office personal . Well I asked to take vacation and he said he’s not paying for my vacation but yet everyone else gets paid vacation?? There’s a list of things that goes on and over looked what can I do?

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Rosie June 13, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Does a complaint have to be filed within a certain amount of time ?

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Michael Haberman August 5, 2016 at 11:43 am

Typically complaints on harassment and discrimination have to be filled with in 180 days of the last incident of discrimination. Pay violations are typically ongoing so you can report them anytime.

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Michelle June 14, 2016 at 2:35 pm

I’ve been working to this company for almost 3 years. The boss is very bad in communication with the employees. She doesn’t give any health benefits for full time employees and she always ask me to do office and personal errands for her. Sometimes it takes me the whole day outside doing things for her. She said it’s ok because she pays for my mileage. She pay late for everyone. She hires people who is undocumented and pay them cash and pay them after a week of their payday. Bottom line, she does illegal stuff and asked us to take down the whistleblower that’s on the wall. She has 2 employee in the office and the rest is caregivers. It was me and the other girl in the office and we decided to leave the company. I gave my boss my resignation letter and gave her 2 months to get a replacement and my other co-worker just resigned right away. Because of her ego she send me a termination letter and a cease and decease letter. Now she is spreading lies to everyone that my coworker and I were stealing money from her that’s why she couldn’t pay them on time. And she is texting and threatening me like if she’s innocent. Can you please advise me what to do with this. Do I have to just sit and do nothing?

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Michael Haberman August 5, 2016 at 11:41 am

Sorry for the late response. No, don’t sit and do nothing. Leave. Report her to the US Department of Labor for pay violations.

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Bionic Ramos June 28, 2016 at 9:10 am

Our Administrative Manager is also doing billing for our company, billing is not doing good and no money is coming in for the company. Our Director decided to hire another billing company to handle the business but our A.M/ billing threatened our director and informed him she will sue him for damages , health hazards etc, he even threatened us that if the directors decides to hand the business to new billing 6 people will be fired out including myself(im not even part of billing) . We cannot file a complaint to HR because HR is also afraid of her and this Admin manager/billing holds our HR’s neck. She fired 4 people already. If employees doesn’t agree with her she fires them out. All of us now are afraid and cannot do anything since this is the only bread and butter. Advice please

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Michael Haberman August 5, 2016 at 11:38 am

Sorry for the tardy response… file a complaint anonymously with the EEOC. Then hope you get a manager with a backbone.

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Summer Ayers July 23, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Thursday I was brought into the my supervisors office after 2 hours of work. Before I can sit down she says she has to let me go, because I had 8 ROA’S. usually there is a process. Verbal,written and the final (verbal warning) I received no warnings, no papers to sign and no one ha d spoke with me about my abscences. Add terms I told her that it would be illegal to fire me with out proper paper work her tune changed towards me. Said tht this would be my final waning, made me fill out a paper this time, and proceeded to tell me that if the conversation left the office there would be reprocussions. This is work place bullying. I need some advice. I work at a warehouse in Jacksonville fl. What steps should I take?

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Michael Haberman August 5, 2016 at 11:34 am

Summer:
Under employment at will it is not illegal to fire someone even absent paperwork. If you feel you are treated the way you are being treated because of some protected characteristic, such as race or disability then you can go to the local EEOC office and file a complaint. But performance issues and attendance issues not tied to those characteristics are certainly valid reasons for an employer to let someone go, even without notice.

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Jamie Countryman July 29, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Hey guys!
I just left a job of 3 years as an executive chef for a privately owned restaurant in ny. My salary was $1000 a week 60 hours. There were a few instances where my pay was cut cuz I was called off by the employer cuz she didn’t want to pay me. She micromanaged which is annoying, would come on the line and call people idiots, tell em to fuck off and they’re incompetent. We were not allowed lunch breaks. Expected to work 14 hr days when our hours were scheduled 10 and would tell us we’re not meeting expectations when responsibilities were continually increased. I have seen her make employees cry with belittling comments. Hourly people would be over 30 hours a pay period and not paid overtime. Told that “I can write you a new check, but let’s talk salary” and weeks go by and no ot pay. I walked out last week because I was sat down because I plan on moving after the season and being her executive chef she wanted to put her input in. I was basically told my fiancée is using me and I shouldn’t go and that if my fiancée truly loved me she wouldn’t feed me cupcakes. And that she can’t believe a woman of my size and stature (I’m a 6ft 300lb woman) goes to work and works as hard as I do to the point I can’t physically move, and actually gets up the next morning and does t again. I was aware I had a lot of responsibility as executive yet i was not given time or staff to properly execute our volume. It was effecting me mentally to where I almost admitted myself, being repeatedly told I was incompetent and just need to perform faster. I was getting physically ill due to exhaustion and was hospitalized because of it. I know I do my job very well and am capable of the tasks initially given, then was given almost impossible expectations. I have never been fired or had any issues at any jobs in my life. Now, to keep my physical and mental being healthy, I do not have a job. I didn’t know what else to do. I guess I just don’t know how to go about being compensated for pay deductions and what to do about the continuous verbal insults. I just slowly realized all the illegal and inhumane activities going on and I had to leave to protect myself. What do I do

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Michael Haberman August 5, 2016 at 11:30 am

Jamie:
You can report her to both the Department of Labor for potential wage violations and to the EEOC for discrimination issues. Let them investigate.

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Ryan W September 18, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Hello! My name is Ryan & I have a question. I’ve been at my current job for about 3 months. I like my job and the work, but my employer is crazy. He runs two other companies along with the one I work at. His attitude and temper is nuts. I’m an assistant manager, and he makes me and all of my employees so nervous/on edge. During management meetings he screams at his employees, calling us “fucking idiots,” morons, asking why we’re so dumb, etc. I have a beard & keep it trimmed, and on one occassion he said I should shave down my beard because “I look like a terrorist.” Im on antidepressants, and I need this job, but he adds so much anxiety and stress, I don’t know what to do.

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Amy Sheehan September 21, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Hello, my name is Amy Sheehan and I just got fired from my job because I called at Co worker while I was at home and talked to her about the meeting she used and also about how the owner stayed he wanted to fire her and when he sta ed that it was in frontcof other employees and she was not there. I felt she had a right to know. I worked at this small restaurant for 11 months and dealt with being verbally abused, degraded, and belittled in front of other Co workers and customers. The owner did this to all of his employees. When I ask ny to my Co worker about the meting one of the subjects brought was no matter what they say to us we could not say anything back. Well I feel if I don’t like being abused I am going to ask for respect and for them not to talk to us that way. But we were told if we say anything back that we would be fired. So after talking to my Co worker about our feelings about the meeting and about the way we are treated she went back to work the next day and told the owner and his mother who no longer owns the place everything I said, so today I get phone call from the mother saying I was fired for talking about the meeting and about the Co worker getting fired, and expressing my feelings on not wanting to be treated badly at work. What can I do about this????

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