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Reporting unsanitary conditions may be protected action

New Yorkers, like people everywhere, do not like to talk about it, but everyone needs to use the bathroom throughout the workday. If there are insufficient facilities for doing so or no means for washing one’s hands afterward, this lack causes some valid health concerns. Workers may feel silly bringing up the matter to a supervisor, but the health threat is real.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even the smallest amount of feces on one’s hands carries tons of germs that can cause diarrhea and spread serious respiratory infections. Germs can easily be spread to anything touched by someone with unclean hands, such as tables, chairs and handrails. Because people touch their mouths, eyes and noses several times each day, anyone who touches those same surfaces may pick up the germs.

The U.S. Department of Labor explains that the Seaman’s Protection Act provides protection for workers who report unsafe conditions, including unsanitary situations like those described. However, the act does require the complainant to first notify the employer, which he is doing by telling a supervisor and/or upper management of unsafe conditions. If there is no correction of the conditions, then the worker can report the issue to the appropriate federal agency, such as the Coast Guard or National Transportation Safety Board.

The protection act provides certain safeguards to the worker through three provisions. The first is guaranteeing the worker cannot be fired or retaliated against for reporting a safety violation or for refusing to complete an activity he deems unsafe. Other protected actions include testifying about the conditions, reporting an injury or cooperating with safety investigations.

The second provision states that a “reasonable” person must have the same fear of injury that the complainant has in the same conditions. The final requirement is that of informing the employer of the conditions.

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