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Employer must allow reporting for workers' compensation claim

Under New Hampshire and federal law, workers have an absolute right, and even a duty, to report every workplace accident and injury as they occur. An employer who does not cooperate in that reporting process may be exposed to tort litigation and to penalties from both state and federal authorities. An employer also cannot obstruct a worker from trying to collect lawfully available workers' compensation benefits without risking legal action and penalties.

One recent incident in another jurisdiction demonstrates how not honoring these basic principles can result in severe consequences against the employer. A beef jerky manufacturer, Lone Star Western Beef, allegedly committed an egregious breach of the rules when it fired a worker for trying to call 911. The worker was allegedly trying to get medical attention for a co-worker who had severed part of his thumb in a workplace accident.

The case came to a head recently when the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sued Lone Star on behalf of the fired worker in a federal court. The suit seeks compensation for lost wages and penalties relating to Lone Star's alleged egregiously mismanaged handling of the situation. The agency alleges that Lone Star did little to clean up or sanitize the area where the worker's blood had splattered.

Although the owner threw out the meat that the man had been cutting, he did not discard the other meat in the vicinity. This case represents an action for wrongful termination damages on behalf of the terminated worker. It seeks other damages against the plant for its reckless handling and violation of safety and sanitary work conditions.

It appears that the allegations include charges that the owner tried to refuse medical attention because of his frustration with existing litigation over workers' compensation matters. In New Hampshire, it is a violation of statutory and/or common law to fire someone for trying to report an injury for workers' compensation purposes. It appears that, depending on the factual details, there may also be the possibility that the injured worker has a tort claim against the employer over and above the workers' compensation benefits to which he is entitled.

Source: cnbc.com, "Labor Department sues beef jerky maker for firing worker who tried to call 911 after co-worker severed thumb", Dan Mangan, Jan. 6, 2017

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