Hospital workers and employees of other patient care facilities have some of the most difficult jobs out there. The enormous amount of stress, pressure, and difficulty in performing these vital jobs has only been made worse this past year by the global pandemic that has swept across this nation. Given the huge amount of responsibility and the sheer importance of the jobs carried out by hospital workers, it is now more important than ever that COVID-19 safety procedures be followed. This is only possible if workers are allowed to freely report violations of COVID-19 safety procedures. Luckily, Texas law agrees. In this article I will discuss the very basics of the Texas Health and Safety Code and how it may be able to help you create a safer working environment.
Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, employees of hospitals, mental health facilities, and treatment facilities are protected from retaliation by their employers if they make a report of a violation of law, which includes a violation of the code itself, a rule adopted by the code, or a rule of another agency. Moreover, if a time gap of less than 60 days is between when the report is made and an adverse action, which can be a termination, suspension, or a demotion, takes place, the law states that there is a rebuttable presumption that the adverse action took place because of the report.
Let’s put forth an example. On January 1, 2021, a hospital employee witnesses a violation of several COVID-19 related rules at their private hospital. That same day they report these violations to their supervisor. The supervisor point blank tells the employee that they are not to tell anyone else, and they should just forget what they saw. Knowing that the violation could put people at risk, the employee goes to the state regulatory agency in charge of enforcing these rules on January 2, 2021 and files a report. After the supervisor is made aware of the report, everything changed. The employee’s supervisor then begins to make statements towards the employee telling them that they have made a grave mistake for making that report. Then on February 2, 2021, without having been given a final warning, that employee is unceremoniously terminated without any stated reason.
In the above given hypothetical, it appears that the hospital employee may have a claim against the hospital for a violation of the Texas Health and Safety Code. This is precisely the type of situation that the Texas Health and Safety Code was meant to prevent. As prescribed under the statute, that employee, if successful, would be entitled to reinstatement to their prior position, compensation for lost wages, and payment for any lost fringe benefits or reinstatement of seniority rights lost as a result of the illegal termination. In other words, the law is designed to help get employees back to where they were had the illegal action not occurred.
But the time to act under this particular cause of action is short. One must act quickly. Under the statute employees have only 180 days after the violation occurs to file suit. A failure to do so, would result in the cause of action expiring.
Unfortunately, cases for these types of violations are not always crystal clear. Employers go about retaliating against their employees in much more nefarious manners that make it much more difficult to prove. Given that the statute of limitations is only 180 days, it is of the utmost importance to act swiftly. But more important than acting swiftly, it is imperative to seek out an attorney that specializes in employment law so that you can get the information that you need. At Wiley Walsh, P.C., we can fight on your behalf with the legal expertise these types of cases demand. If you feel like you have been retaliated against feel free to contact us to make an appointment with one of our attorneys.