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U.S. Steel Settles DOL Retaliation Suit

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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To settle a Department of Labor lawsuit filed on behalf of injured workers, a U.S. steel-production giant has agreed to return unpaid wages and retract the injury reporting policy that was at the center of the complaint.

Pittsburgh-based United States Steel Corporation said it will return $1,350 in back pay to employees named in the suit and replace its current Immediate Reporting Policy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Pittsburgh with US Steel HQ
© / Joy Fera

Pittsburgh-based United States Steel Corporation said it will issue back pay and rescind the disciplinary actions taken against employees it claimed violated injury reporting policy; the steelmaker will also withdraw and replace that policy.

"OSHA is extremely pleased with this settlement, which requires the payment of back wages to U.S. Steel employees who were disciplined after reporting of injuries to their employer, along with significant changes in U.S. Steel's injury and incident reporting policies,” said Richard Mendelson, OSHA regional administrator in Philadelphia.

“OSHA and the regional Office of the Solicitor partnered to negotiate this outstanding agreement, which ensures that employees can properly report on-the-job injuries without fear of retaliation."

As part of the terms of the agreement, no parties involved in the complaint admit to guilt or liability for any claims or allegations.

Disciplinary Actions Overturned

The complaint, filed in February by Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, alleged that the company’s Immediate Reporting Policy was too strict in its requirement for employees to immediately report all injuries to a supervisor.

The secretary also alleged that employees, including Jeff Walters and John Armstrong, were unfairly disciplined for reporting injuries that resulted from worksite incidents that had occurred days earlier. The men, however, maintained they didn’t report the incidents because they didn’t know they were injured at the time.

Clairton Works
United States Steel

The Department of Labor complaint filed against the steel producer claimed that the the Immediate Reporting Policy was too strict in its reporting requirements and could discourage workers from reporting injuries out of fear of violating the policy.

Walters’ and Armstrong’s injuries were said to be reported just two days apart in February 2014 at U.S. Steel’s Clairton (PA) Plant and its Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, PA. One was an infection occurring days after a splinter was removed by the employee during a shift, and the other was stiffness that developed days after one of the workers bumped his head while wearing a hardhat.

Each was handed a suspension without pay ranging from two to five days for allegedly not reporting their injuries immediately.

Both workers filed complaints with OSHA alleging that U.S. Steel had suspended them in retaliation for reporting workplace injuries.

According to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, dated July 15, U.S. Steel will rescind the discipline of both employees. It will pay Armstrong $877.23 in back wages, which includes interest, lost in connection with the disciplinary action. Walters will be paid $471.84 in back pay. Both are to be paid within 30 days of the effective date of the agreement.

A third employee, Derrick Marbley, who worked at the company’s Lorain (OH) Tubular facility, has a complaint pending with OSHA for disciplinary action in 2014 as well but, per this agreement, will also have his suspension rescinded and replaced by a written warning.

New Reporting Policy

The lawsuit also alleged that the company’s Immediate Reporting Policy was too strict in its requirement for employees to immediately report all injuries to a supervisor.

The policy effectively discouraged employees from reporting injuries when they were recognized out of fear that they would be violating the tight requirements of the policy, the secretary said.

Lorain Works
United States Steel

The new reporting requirements U.S. Steel has agreed to adopt per the settlement take awareness of injury into account, now requiring that injuries be reported before an employee leaves the work site or within eight hours of discovering the injury. It also establishes a similarly reasonable policy for reporting incidents like near misses.

Additionally, the DOL claimed that, “by creating a barrier for reasonable employees to report workplace injuries and illnesses,” the company’s Immediate Reporting Policy violated the implementing regulations under its Occupational Health and Safety Act that establish a recordkeeping system for recording workplace injuries and illnesses.

As part of the settlement, the steel producer has also agreed to change the policy. Per the terms of the agreement, U.S. Steel agrees “never to reinstate or enforce the Immediate Reporting Policy or any injury or incident reporting policy” that contain restrictive reporting requirement that hinder an employee’s ability to comply with the rule when not yet aware that an injury or illness has been sustained.

The old policy will be replaced by the Occupational Illness and Injury Reporting Policy and Incident Without Injury Reporting Policy, both of which are spelled out as attachments to the agreement.

The new requirements take awareness of injury into account and now state that employees must report before leave the work site or within eight hours of discovering their injury. It also establishes a similarly reasonable policy for reporting incidents like near misses, the United Steel Workers said in a statement.

“This is an excellent settlement,” USW International Vice President Tom Conway.

“Not only does it give justice to three brave union members who stood up for their rights, but it will lead to more complete and accurate injury records and improved safety. This will benefit both the workers and the company.”


Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Health & Safety; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; North America; OSHA; U.S. Steel

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