Injuries on the Job: A Workplace Safety and Rights Primer
By Chris Kramer
Most Americans spend more time at their full-time job than they do at home (outside of sleep), so it's no wonder that many personal injuries occur in the workplace or on the job. Of course, if you've been injured at work, you may want to read more about worker's compensation or the appropriate field of employment law. And talking to a personal injury lawyer can help you understand how these laws might apply to your specific injury.
A recent AP news story highlights another important aspect of workplace injuries: workers' rights. The story relates how a supervisor at the telecommunications company Qwest told workmen to use disposable bags for urine while out in the field in order to avoid the time wasted while searching for a bathroom. About 25 male workers were given the bags by Qwest, according to the story.
And union officials weren't happy. While finding a bathroom can be a hassle and a time-waster for workers in the field, asking them to use unsanitary disposable bags is just too much, according to the complaint. A Qwest labor relations spokesperson made it clear that using the bags isn't mandatory, and apparently one manager in particular pushed the workers to use the bags.
What remains to be seen is whether or not the union decides to file a lawsuit, or a formal complaint with the company first. It's hard to see how a lawsuit would be successful, unless prior complaints had recorded a pattern of company violations (typically the requirement to establish the award of compensation in the form of a jury verdict or settlement).
You should know that some civil rights violations are covered under tort law, including discrimination and wrongful termination, both of which may arise in the workplace. Often, such violations are brought to court in class-action lawsuits that allow participants who qualify as class members to be granted compensation. Here are a few recent examples in the news:
- In separate incidents, two women were fired for revealing to their employers that they were diagnosed with breast cancer, a violation of employment law concerning discrimination based on their medical condition.
- An employer in California terminated a man for failing a drug test. The man was using medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor, and was fired despite a formal letter signed by his doctor.
- A woman in Orlando was humiliated at work during "team-building" exercises in which employees were spanked and made to wear diapers.
Sometimes, violations of safety laws in the workplace, such as those related to hygiene and sanitation, for example, could cause a health risk or hazardous exposure incident.
- An employee of the Honolulu Police Department suffered a detached retina during workplace horseplay when a ball hit her in the face.
- Six Dole Fresh Fruit Co. workers became impotent after ongoing exposure to a pesticide used at a company-owned banana plantation in Nicaragua.
- The family of a private in the U.S. Army was compensated for the soldier's wrongful death at Fort Benning in Georgia, when he was electrocuted by touching a metal wall.
Of course, if you experience any similar violations or hazards at your office, it may be time to speak to a personal injury attorney to see if you qualify for compensation. As these examples prove, your rights and safety in the workplace are important and protected by law.