The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has long been a health and environmental concern for Oregonians. Hanford is the most contaminated site in the nation, and many of the underground tanks holding nuclear waste are leaking. If the waste is not properly treated, the Columbia River and surrounding communities could be compromised. In 2010, a URS Corp. employee, Walter Tamosaitis, worked as a manager helping to oversee construction of the $12.3 billion Waste Treatment Plant, which was meant to turn the radioactive waste into glass.
Tamosaitis soon raised safety concerns regarding fundamental design flaws of the facility. Though federal investigators validated the design flaws and halted construction, Tamosaitis was removed from his manager position. URS Corp. instead sent the senior scientist to work in a basement office with no furniture, no phone, and no meaningful work, according to the employee. Earlier this month, he was fired completely from URS Corp. after 44 years of employment.
Tamosaitis contends that he was wrongfully terminated because he continued to try to raise concerns about the safety of future plant operations. However, URS Corp. insists that the company encourages employees to come forward with concerns, that safety remains its highest priority, and that the layoff was solely due to budget cuts.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has come forward in defense of Tamosaitis and other Hanford whistleblowers who have experienced similar retaliation. Wyden does not believe URS Corp.’s budget cuts excuse, and wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Energy Department stating, “”It is hard to see how his termination could do anything but discourage employees at Hanford and throughout the (nuclear weapons) complex from coming forward with health or safety concerns.” The director of nuclear watchdog group Hanford Challenge also stood by Tamosaitis, stating this was “clearly another act of retribution against Walter Tamosaitis.”
Protections for Whistleblowers
Terminating employees for reporting health or safety concerns, violations of law, or other unethical behavior within a company is against the law. Employees in Oregon are protected by both federal and state whistleblower laws. First, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights and raise health or safety concerns regarding the workplace. Next, Oregon Revised Statute 659A.203 was revised in 2010 to protect both public and private sector employees when reporting violations of the law or health and safety dangers at work.
Employees have the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, and have the right to report when their employers do not follow employment laws and regulations. If you have made the brave move of filing a good faith complaint or raising concerns regarding questionable actions of your employer, you deserve to be protected from any discipline, demotion, discharge, or other form of retaliation. The experienced employment attorneys at HKM can help protect your rights.