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Court orders dentist to pay $85K to employee fired for safety complaint

Court orders dentist to pay $85K to employee fired for safety complaint

10/5/2017 11:56:18 AM   |   Comments: 0   |   Views: 157
It began when a Massachusetts dentist changed his practice's procedure for disposing of contaminated needles. He told those in his Beverly-based office to first remove the protective caps before dropping them into sharps disposal containers, allegedly to fill the containers with more used needles and reduce the frequency and cost of their disposal.

Concerned that she and her co-workers could be exposed to needle stick injuries and the risk of infection from bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis and HIV, a dental assistant raised the issue with the dentist.When he dismissed her concern, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After an OSHA inspector visited the practice, the dentist fired her later that day.

A whistleblower investigation followed and the Department of Labor sued the dentist in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. In its complaint, the department charged that the dentist violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The suit eventually went to trial before U.S. District Judge George A. O'Toole.

Judge O'Toole has ruled in favor of the department and ordered the dentist to pay the worker $51,644.80 in back wages and ordered both the doctor and the practice to pay her $33,450.26 in compensatory damages. The judge found that the employee's firing by the doctor shortly after OSHA began its inspection was retaliatory and a violation of section 11(c) of the OSH Act.

In addition to the back wages and compensatory damages the dentist had to pay, OSHA's health inspection resulted in the dental practice being cited for several bloodborne pathogen violations. The violations totaled $11,000.

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