Texas dentists must pay $15K in back pay in whistleblower case

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A dental practice in Texas and its owners must pay $15,700 in back wages to workers who were illegally fired for raising COVID-19 safety concerns following a whistleblower investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Following an investigation, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined that Drs. Roger and David Bohannan of Roger H. Bohannan DDS in North Richland Hills, TX, initially discriminated against the employees for exercising their right to express concerns about their safety and health, according to an OSHA press release dated February 21.

"Like all workers, these two people had every right to speak up without the fear of losing their jobs," Eric Harbin, OSHA regional administrator in Dallas, said in the release. "We want workers to know that OSHA is here to protect their rights, and we won't hesitate to exercise our authority when they are violated."

On February 3, 2023, the court entered a consent judgment in which Drs. Roger and David Bohannan and their dental practice agreed to pay the back wages. The judgment also forbids the employer from violating the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act in the future and requires them to provide neutral work references for wrongfully terminated employees, according to the release.

At the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, the dentists furloughed every employee when the state banned specific dental procedures and they were forced to close the practice. While they were furloughed, the dental hygienist and dental assistant expressed concerns over safety precautions once the dental office reopened, according to the release.

After receiving a call to return to work, the practice purportedly did not reinstate the hygienist after the person cited guidance from OSHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, OSHA found the practice rescinded its offer to rehire the dental assistant after the person inquired about safety and protective measures. Ultimately, the practice terminated both employees.

In July 2021, the DOL, on behalf of the employees, filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division against the dentists, citing violations of the OSH Act and for engaging in the protected activity of making a good faith health and safety complaint.

"The U.S. Department of Labor will vigorously seek to prevent employers from retaliating against workers who exercise their rights to voice safety and health concerns," John Rainwater, a regional solicitor of labor in Dallas, said in the release.

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