Federal court orders former Boise dog daycare facility, owner to pay $50K to two employees fired after reporting COVID-19 safety concerns
BOISE, ID ‒ The U.S. Department of Labor has obtained a consent judgment in federal court requiring a Boise dog daycare facility and its former owner to pay $50,000 in general and punitive damages for terminating two employees unlawfully for raising workplace safety concerns about being exposed to the risk of the coronavirus amid the pandemic in June 2020.
On Oct. 2, 2023, Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho entered a consent judgment in which House of Hounds LLC and former owner Kayla Martin must pay each of the two employees $25,000 in general and punitive damages, provide a neutral employment recommendation, remove any reference to the incident from their employment records and apologize publicly on social media to the terminated employees.
The court’s action follows an investigation by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration after two employees filed a whistleblower complaint, reporting that their employer fired them after they expressed concerns about working with a co-worker awaiting COVID-19 test results.
OSHA investigators learned that, after the employees raised their concerns, Martin told them to finish what they were doing and to clock out and go home. The employer then removed the two workers from the company’s social media platform and did not send either the revised weekly work schedule, which reflected the termination. The employer treated a third employee similarly but they did not file an OSHA complaint.
When the workers applied for unemployment insurance after their termination, the House of Hounds challenged their benefits claim and reported to the State of Idaho Department of Labor that the workers ‘quit.’
“Our team works diligently to ensure the voices of employees who exercise their right to report alleged unsafe working conditions are heard,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Dorinda Hughes in Seattle. “This outcome serves as a reminder that retaliating against a worker who reports a safety and health concern will not be tolerated.”
After OSHA found the employer violated federal whistleblower regulations, the department’s Office of the Solicitor in Seattle filed a complaint alleging discrimination and retaliation by the employer against the two employees for exercising their legal rights.
“Federal law protects employees against employers taking adverse actions against those who exercise their legal rights regarding workplace safety and health” explained the department’s Regional Solicitor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco. “This judgment underscores the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to enforcing fundamental workers’ rights to express safety concerns freely and without fear of retaliation.”
The judgment also requires the employers to provide OSHA-approved management and supervisory training, post and send a notice to all new and some former employees of their rights and forbids the employer against future violations of federal whistleblower protections.
During the litigation, Martin sold House of Hounds.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and more than 20 other statutes protecting employees who report 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, criminal antitrust and anti-money laundering laws. 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.