US companies that discriminate against food safety whistle blowers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, an occupational safety body has promised.
The US Department of Labour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently suing retail company Whole Foods Market, after it allegedly fired an employee for raising workplace food safety concerns.
The OSHA, which investigates retaliation allegations directly relating to food safety under the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), hopes that this prosecution will put the food sector “on notice.”
The administration is fully committed to seeking out and prosecuting those who discriminate against whistle blowers, an OSHA spokesperson told FoodProductionDaily.com.
Food sector ‘on notice’
“In this case, OSHA's filing of this lawsuit against Whole Foods puts others within the industry 'on notice' that OSHA is committed to fully and thoroughly investigating retaliation complaints and that if any person and/or employer is found to be in violation, he/she will be held accountable and prosecuted.”
“When a case is found meritorious and settlement negotiations fail, OSHA will proceed with issuing findings, in many cases with reinstatement orders, and will prosecute violators to the full extent of the law,” the spokesperson added.
The current lawsuit relates to the sacking of a whistle blowing employee.
On 1 November 2009, the employee voiced concerns over the rupture of a sewer line which had begun spilling into the workplace – including a speciality cheese section.
After no actions were taken by store management, the employee contacted the company’s anonymous tip-off line.
On 5 November, the employee approached another manager to express their concerns that the problem had not been corrected.
The employee was “was terminated for what the company alleged "making false and malicious statements regarding the company not taking any steps to redress the sewage contamination at the workplace.”
When approached about other food safety whistle blower discrimination cases, the OSHA declined to comment.
“OSHA does not disclose information on on-going investigations,” the spokesperson added.
“In this case, OSHA found that the company retaliated against the employee for continuously reporting health concerns regarding the raw sewage spill and the company's delay in addressing the problem.”
FoodProductionDaily.com approached the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU OSH), but it declined to comment on the actions of other international authorities.