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How is employer retaliation affecting workplace injury reports?

At a cursory glance, it looks like an absolute positive: reports of workplace injuries, according to the federal government, declined by more than 30 percent between 2003 and 2011. But at the same time, lawsuits claiming workplace retaliation have seen an uptick.

In 2012, state and federal courts decided on 100 lawsuits alleging retaliation against employees who reported injuries. One source says the increase represents a doubling of retaliation cases from 10 years prior.

Interestingly, a 2011 study conducted by a Duke University professor asked 1,020 apprentice carpenters about injury-reporting in their field, and less than 50 percent of respondents said that employees reported work injuries each time they occurred or most of the mind when they occurred.

So why are workers not reporting their injuries? The answer may not be an outright fear of retaliation in every case, but there are other ways for employers to discourage workers from doing what is right.

For example, HEI Hospitality, a hotel operator, started what was said to be a program to promote workplace safety. Essentially, the program was a contest whereby employees could win prizes, even a car, if none of the employees reported a workplace injury. The rules of the game made clear that the employees of any hotel where an injury occurred would no longer be able to take part in the contest.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has warned about such contests, pointing out that they could lead to pressure on workers not to report legitimate injuries. It isn't difficult to imagine that harassment or co-worker retaliation could arise in such situations.

In any case, employees in New York who have been victimized by retaliation should be aware of their rights. Employers do not always have the safety and best interests of workers in mind, and there are legal avenues to explore in the event of workplace misconduct.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Workplace Injuries Drop, but Claims of Employment Retaliation Rise," James R. Hagerty, July 22, 2013

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