LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Faced one night with a trip over mountainous terrain in a medical transport helicopter with a faulty emergency locator transmitter, a pilot refused to fly the unsafe aircraft and was later terminated in retaliation for doing so. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration followed. As a result, Air Methods Corp. was ordered to reinstate the pilot, pay $158,000 in back wages and $8,500 in damages, and remove disciplinary information from the employee's personnel record. In addition, the company must provide whistleblower rights information to all employees.
OSHA found that Air Methods Corp., the largest U.S. provider of air medical transportation services, violated the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21) when it fired the pilot who was assigned to the company's Lucasville, Ohio station. AIR21 protects employees who report air safety information. Federal Aviation Administration regulation requires pilots in command of a civil aircraft to determine if an aircraft is in a condition for safe flight.
"Pilots should never have to choose between the safety of themselves and their passengers, and their job," said Nick Walters, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago. "Whistleblower protections are critical to keeping workplaces safe. Disciplining an employee for following safety procedures is illegal and puts everyone at risk."
OSHA found that Air Methods fired the pilot in retaliation for his refusal to fly a helicopter with an emergency locator transmitter that was not functioning properly on July 30, 2013. The employee was placed on administrative leave the following day and terminated on Aug. 5, 2013.
Any of the parties in this case can file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
Air Methods Corp.'s medical division transported approximately 102,000 patients in 2013. Based in Englewood, Colo., the company operates in 42 states at more than 300 bases.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the AIR21 and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
# # #
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.