No one should be forced into a dangerous situation by their employer. Of course some jobs are more dangerous than others, but those workers should be protected as much as possible by their employers. Unfortunately, some employers are more concerned about their outward appearance than the safety of their employees.
Last week, a jury heard arguments in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a former PG&E employee against the power company. While employed at PG&E, the man said he was asked to perform a job that involved working around live electrical wires -- PG&E did not want to cut power because it did not want to make customers upset, the man speculated. When he and other workers were replacing the electrical pole, a cross arm crashed down, almost causing two high-voltage wires to touch. Had the wires made contact, an explosion would have occurred.
Of course, the man and the other workers were shaken up after the experience. The worker suffered from depression, anxiety and panic attacks after the incident. Although he was granted medical leave, his employment did not last much longer.
The crew that worked on the live line eventually found out that multiple crews had refused to perform the job unless the power was turned off. Follow-up work on the same line was allowed to be performed with the power shut off. The employee filed a safety complaint about the incident.
Eventually, the worker was fired in a voicemail. He filed a wrongful termination lawsuit arguing that his termination was in part an act of retaliation over the safety complaint he filed. Last week, a jury agreed and awarded the man $1 million.
While a company may think a decision that puts its workers in harm's way will be worth it to keep from looking bad in the eyes of its customers, this case shows that it could end up damaging their reputation further.
Source: San Jose Mercury News, "PG&E worker wins $1 million in Santa Cruz wrongful termination lawsuit," Stephen Baxter, Dec. 16, 2013