The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has 22 laws that protect workers from being fired from their jobs if they report violations to OSHA about unsafe practices undertaken by their employers. One of these whistleblower protection programs is the Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA), which protects people who work on maritime vessels from losing their jobs if they report unsafe conditions or dangerous behavior on their ships. The SPA stipulates that, if someone employed to work on a ship notifies the U.S. Coast Guard about violation of any USCG rule or regulation, then that worker must not be fired for his or her role as a whistleblower. If your health or employment has suffered as a result of an offshore accident, contact a Louisiana offshore injury lawyer.
The Buster Bouchard Disaster and the Whistleblower
On October 20, 2017, while the Buster Bouchard barge was located off Port Aransas, Texas, an explosion on the barge killed two Bouchard Transportation employees. A third employee of Bouchard Transportation, whose brother was one of the victims of the accident, provided information to the Coast Guard in response to their questions in their investigation into the explosion; he also reported other safety concerns not directly related to the October 20 accident, but which he had witnessed while working for Bouchard Transportation. On January 31, 2018 Bouchard Transportation terminated the whistleblower’s employment without citing a reason.
The unjust termination of the brother’s employment led OSHA to conduct a whistleblower investigation. The result of the investigation was that Bouchard Transportation and its representatives Morton Bouchard III, Brendan Bouchard, and Kevin Donohue had violated the SPA by terminating the whistleblower’s employment for no reason other than that he had engaged in activities protected by the SPA. In December 2019, OSHA ordered Bouchard Transportation to pay the following damages to the whistleblower:
- Two years of lost wages
- Back pay plus interest
- Compensatory damages to the whistleblower’s 401(k) retirement account, equivalent to the contributions Bouchard Transportation would have made if the whistleblower had continued working there in 2018 and 2019
- $50,000 in noneconomic damages for emotional distress and loss of reputation in connection to the wrongful termination of employment
- $200,000 in punitive damages for violating the SPA
Whistleblower protections apply to all workers who report unsafe and illegal actions by their employers and who cooperate with investigations into such actions. You may be risking your job or reputation if you report unsafe conditions on an offshore vessel, but you are taking on an important role in preventing offshore injuries, and the law (SPA) is on your side to protect you.
Contact Patrick Yancey About Offshore Accident Cases
If you have been injured in an offshore accident, or reported an unsafe condition (rule violation) and been unfairly punished, then you could be entitled to compensation. Contact the Law Office of Patrick H. Yancey in Houma, Louisiana to see if you have grounds for a lawsuit.