Hanford Contractor Ordered to Rehire Whistleblower Worker - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Hanford Contractor Ordered to Rehire Whistleblower Worker

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HANFORD, WA. - A Hanford contractor has been ordered to reinstate an environmental specialist who was fired after voicing nuclear and environmental safety concerns.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration took action against Washington River Protection Solutions claiming the termination was a violation of federal whistleblower provisions. The contractor fired the employee after the worker repeatedly reported nuclear and environmental safety and permit and record-keeping violations. When the contractor advertised the vacant position, the employer refused to rehire the employee despite adequate qualifications and previous satisfactory performance reviews.

“The people most able to identify hazards are often the workers who are threatened by them,” said Galen Lemke, OSHA's acting regional administrator. “Employees must never be punished for sounding an alarm when they see a problem that could injure, sicken or kill someone, or harm the environment.”

Washington River Protection Solutions must now rehire the employee with the same pay and benefits, pay the employee $185,949 in lost pay plus interest, $24,380 in compensatory damages, and $10,000 in exemplary damages and reasonable attorney's fees. The contractor must also post a "Your Rights Under the Energy Reorganization Act" poster, remove disciplinary information from the employee's personal record, and provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.

WRPS released a statement to NBC Right Now Wednesday afternoon. It is posted below:

Washington River Protection Solutions is currently reviewing the Department of Labor's order which it received Tuesday afternoon.  No decision has been made as to whether Washington River Protection Solutions will request a hearing on the matter before an administrative law judge.  The company has 30 days in which to request such a hearing. 

The employee was one of more than 200 employees who were laid off by the company in the fall of 2011 to align its employment levels with project work scope and federal funding.  The employee's raising of safety or environmental questions was not a factor in the selection for lay-off.

Washington River Protection Solutions is committed to conducting its work at Hanford safely and in compliance with applicable requirements.  Each WRPS employee is empowered and encouraged to raise safety or other workplace concerns.