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OSHA Penalizes Dentists for Silencing Safety Concerns

Dr. Monzer K. Al-Dadah, a dentist based in Peoria, IL, faced scrutiny when he terminated a dental assistant of over 20 years who raised concerns about the risk of coronavirus infection at the workplace. The assistant, upon feeling endangered by a particular work assignment potentially leading to exposure to the virus, refused it. Additionally, the assistant voiced concerns regarding workplace safety protocols with her employer.

Investigations by OSHA revealed that Dr. Al-Dadah had acted upon learning about a safety complaint lodged with OSHA in March 2020. He sought to identify the whistleblower and subsequently terminated the dental assistant. This action led the dental assistant to file another complaint with OSHA, claiming retaliation.

OSHA Whistleblower

The U.S. Department of Labor plays a crucial role in safeguarding workers' rights, ensuring that employees can voice concerns about workplace safety without facing retaliation. Employees, under federal law, are granted the right to decline work assignments when there are genuine concerns of grave injury or potential loss of life. Furthermore, these laws protect workers' rights to raise internal and external safety and health concerns. In response to OSHA's findings that Dr. Al-Dadah breached the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the department's Office of the Solicitor in Chicago initiated a lawsuit in April 2022.

Judge James E. Shadid of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois oversaw the case. On August 9, 2023, he reached a verdict that required Dr. Al-Dadah and his practice, Dr. Monzer K. Al-Dadah LLC, to compensate the terminated dental assistant with $20,000 in back wages. Additionally, the judgment demanded that Dr. Al-Dadah provide a neutral employment recommendation for the former employee and expunge any negative references pertaining to the termination reason from the assistant's employment records.

OSHA Assistant Regional Administrator Denise Keller emphasized the importance of this judgment, stating that employees must have the liberty to express their rights concerning workplace safety without fear of employer retaliation. This case underscores the Department of Labor's dedication to safeguarding these rights.

Conclusion: We saw lots of complaints filed during the early stages of the pandemic and very few gained traction.  Inspectors were swamped with complaints from various industries, and the lack of a standard made enforcement challenging. Most objections were resolved simply by presenting updated OSHA policies that adhered to the most recent CDC recommendations. 

This should emphasize the importance of communication within your workplace. Employees need to feel comfortable voicing safety concerns. It should also highlight that all regulations can be subject to interpretation or how an alleged hazard at your workplace could end up on the wrong person's desk.

Our 2023 OSHA System for Healthcare and Dentistry is your comprehensive solution for adhering to compliance, especially if you currently have outdated or no OSHA policies. This package encompasses all mandatory policies, training, posters, forms, and we offer toll-free phone assistance. Remember, OSHA mandates yearly training for employees, with documentation retained for a three-year period.

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