Pilgrim Pride Corp. and the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have reached a $50,000 settlement in relation to the termination of an employee who raised environmental complaints.
A manager for water reclamation at the company’s chicken processing plant alerted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) after they found process and storm water containing chromium, lead and mercury was discharged into the environment.
Process and storm water can go into sewers and be dispersed into public waters, affecting health.
OSHA initiated their investigation upon receiving a letter from the complainant about the Mount Pleasant facility.
The settlement will see the employer pay the complainant US$50,000 after an agreement was reached prior to OSHA issuing its investigation into the findings.
An OSHA statement said: “According to the complainant, Pilgrim's Pride stated that the TCEQ did not need to be notified and that sharing the information was not in the company's best interest, and consequently terminated the complainant's employment.”
The OSHA investigation focussed around a violation of the whistleblower provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
Pilgrim's Pride also agreed to post a notice to employees advising them of their whistleblower rights, purge any derogatory information in the employee's personnel file directly related to the incident and provide a neutral job reference with the employee not seeking reinstatement.
Right to report
An OSHA spokeswoman said: “Employers should provide a safe and healthful environment for their workers. If employees have concerns about unsafe working conditions they have a right to report those conditions.
“It is important that workers feel free to exercise their rights under the law without fear of retaliation.
“Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government.
“All cases are different and we cannot respond in general terms. As of mid-June, OSHA has settled 42 cases.
“The Labor Department is committed to protecting the whistleblower rights of all workers.”
OSHA had received 806 whistleblower cases across all industries in Q1 and Q2 of this year with 690 completed.
When contacted by FoodProductionDaily.com a spokeswoman for Pilgrim Pride Corp. said: “This dispute has been resolved.
“There are confidential aspects to the settlement, and as such we will not comment on the underlying disagreement.”