Philadelphia is a city of firsts:
First Continental Congress. First US Stock Exchange. First Elmo Drumline.
And now you can add COVID Whistleblower Protections to the list.
On June 26, 2020, Philadelphia continued its recent trend of enacting worker legislation, and became the first city to provide whistleblower protections for employees who communicate or refuse to work in unsafe and unlawful COVID conditions.
According to the law, employers may not take action against employees for voicing concerns in a protected disclosure or for refusing to work, if that employee “reasonably believes that the employer is operating in violation of a COVID-19 public health order…and the employee has notified the employer of the unsafe condition.”
Of note, the law does not cover an employee whose employer provides a “reasonable alternative work assignment” or whose workplace has been found to be in compliance with local and state COVID orders.
After receiving approval from the Department of Labor, employees may bring action against their employers, and if successful, “may be awarded reinstatement, backpay and other compensatory damages.”
Federal law already protects employees who bring up unsafe workplace conditions from retaliation. However, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer interview with Occupational Safety and Health Administration official Debbie Berkowitz, OSHA has a “very poor track record,” in which most complaints are dismissed.
Considering the legislation’s popularity (unanimous approval by City Council and the support of a large and diverse number of labor groups), expect to see similar measures in other cities.
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