As many of our readers remember, Twitter exploded recently with a flurry of posts as temperatures across the nation began to soar. For people here in Indiana, it was hard not to notice rising temps or the score of angry workers forced to work in such heat. But for those areas of the nation not sweltering from the heat, it was hard not to recognize the threat this caused to fast-food workers, especially not after one McDonald’s employee had to be taken to the hospital after passing out at work.
The story quickly caught national attention when several of the employee’s coworkers decided to walk off the job, refusing to continue work in the heat. Employees say that the conditions inside the restaurant were considerably worse because of a broken air-conditioning unit that had not been working that day. Coupled with the fryers and cook tops, the unsafe conditions became too much.
But while these employees gained support from community members for walking off the job--some even protesting the conditions inside the restaurant alongside some employees--these employees now fear that they could face retaliation from their manager. It’s a concern any employee here in Indiana may have. It’s especially true for non-union workers who are under constant threat from at-will-employment laws. But could these workers be fired for pointing out a clear safety concern?
Because the incident occurred in New York, and because Indiana employment laws may vary from those in other states, it’s hard to tell at this time whether these workers could see negative consequences for their actions. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protects workers who file complaints about workplace safety, it does not prevent an employer from retaliating against employees who file complaints. If OSHA considered this situation unsafe for workers, then those who did face negative employment as a result of walking off the job may be entitled to seek legal representation and argue their case in court.
As we've said before in past posts, employees should never have to fear retaliation from their employers, especially not after reporting a safety concern. Unfortunately, situations do occur, which is when legal representation can be most beneficial.
Source: The Huffington Post, "McDonald's Employees Walk Out In Protest Of No Air Conditioning After Crew Member Collapses," Caroline Fairchild, July 19, 2013