A North Texas dental practice is facing legal action after two employees were dismissed for expressing concerns about workplace safety measures to combat coronavirus, the US Department of Labor has confirmed.
In March and April 2020, Roger Bohannan and David Bohannan, owners of Roger H Bohannan DDS Inc, furloughed their employees after the state of Texas prohibited specific dental procedures at the height of the covid-19 pandemic.
While furloughed, two employees asked what safety measures would be in place once patients and employees returned.
After receiving a call to return to work, the dental practice did not reinstate a dental hygienist who had cited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
A dental assistant was contacted for rehiring but the practice rescinded the offer after the assistant inquired about what safety measures were in place for their protection.
An investigation by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found Bohannan Dentistry discriminated against the employees for exercising their rights under section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) and for engaging in the protected activity of making a good faith health and safety complaint.
The two employees were not rehired while all of the other staff members at the North Richland Hills practice were reinstated when the furlough ended.
“Bohannan Dentistry violated employees’ rights by terminating them for reporting concerns about unsafe working conditions,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S Harbin in Dallas.
“Workers should not fear losing their job because they raise safety concerns within the workplace. The Labor Department will continue to vigorously enforce these protections.”
Filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, the department’s suit names Roger H Bohannan, DDS Inc and owners Roger Bohannan and David Bohannan.
The court has been asked to order the dental practice to pay the complainant damages, plus interest, for all past and future lost wages and benefits resulting from the termination; reimbursement for costs and expenses; compensatory damages, including for compensation for emotional pain and distress and exemplary or punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
The complaint also asks for the practice to post a notice for employees stating that the defendants will not in any manner discriminate against any employee for engaging in activities protected by Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.
“Employees have the right to raise valid health and safety concerns, especially those related to the coronavirus, and are protected by law against retaliation by employers,” said John Rainwater, regional solicitor of labor in Dallas.
“The US Department of Labor is dedicated to ensuring safe and healthful working conditions as the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires.”
Attorney Brett Thomas of Beaumont, who is representing Bohannan Dentistry, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that, at all times, his clients “acted honourably” and deny any wrongdoing.