US Department of Labor sues Florida security contractor who terminated worker who raised coronavirus, firearm storage safety concerns
PORT ARTHUR, TX – The U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit against a Florida security contractor that terminated a worker after they raised concerns in a work group chat on a secure messaging app about safe firearm storage and coronavirus-related workplace hazards, including a lack of physical distancing and other potential exposure risks.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division, the department names VRP Group Inc. – doing business as Regius Investigations and Protective Services – alleging the employer illegally terminated the worker in August 2020, shortly after the worker texted supervisors in the work group chat to report hazardous work conditions. VRP Group notified the worker of their termination using the same messaging app.
The worker was among a group of Regius employees assigned initially to supply security services to Entergy Texas to secure properties near Port Arthur. After Regius directed the worker and their colleagues to relocate from an area hotel to temporary housing, the worker raised concerns with their supervisors about the move, citing COVID-19 policies and protocols and the need for secure firearm storage.
Following their termination, the employee filed a retaliation complaint with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An investigation by OSHA’s Dallas Regional Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs found that the Gainesville-based, VRP Group Inc. violated Section 11(c)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act for terminating the employee because they engaged in the protected activities of making a good faith health and safety complaint.
“Employers who retaliate against workers who raise valid safety concerns create an unsafe work environment for all of their workers,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “In addition to violating federal law, such coercive behavior can have a chilling effect on workers that may prevent them from reporting issues or conditions that put their health and well-being, and others – including their co-workers – at risk.”
In its complaint, the department asks the court to order VRP Group Inc. to do the following:
- Permanently enjoin and restrain the employer, its officers, agents, servants, employees and those persons in active concert or participation with them, from violating the provisions of Section 11(c)(1) of the act.
- Pay the worker damages, plus interest, for all past and future lost wages and benefits resulting from the termination; reimbursement for costs and expenses; compensatory damages, including for compensation for emotional pain and distress; and exemplary or punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
- Expunge from all personnel and company records references to the circumstances giving rise to their unlawful suspension and termination of the complainant.
- Post a notice for employees stating that the defendants will not in any manner discriminate against any employee for engaging in activities protected by Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.
“The U.S. Department of Labor’s action sends a clear and strong message to employers. Those who employ people must never forget that worker safety should be their first concern,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor John Rainwater in Dallas. “Punishing an employee who raises legitimate safety concerns will not be tolerated. We will pursue all appropriate legal remedies to protect workers’ rights to report an unsafe condition.”
The department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in Dallas is litigating the case.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, antitrust, and anti-money laundering laws and for engaging in other related protected activities. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
# # #
Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.