When Your HR Consultant Needs HR Help

By John C. Cook

We have heard it said that doctors are the worst patients. We know that lawyers can be the worst clients. What happens when your HR consultant gets sued for allegedly failing to follow workplace safety rules? Well, we may find out.

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, just got hit with a large whistleblower retaliation claim. Bailey Yeager, a high-level employee with an excellent performance history, alleges that she expressed concern back in May 2020 when the organization started talking about bringing staff back into the office. Yeager, who has two young children, asked to see the organization’s safety plan for reopening. The response allegedly was a pink slip. Three other employees allegedly suffered the same fate. Yeager further alleged that the CEO then held a conference call and said he would outsource the work previously done by the three now-terminated employees.

Yeager filed a complaint with OSHA, the federal agency charged with enforcing workplace safety regulations. Yeager further alleges that the CEO personally called the U.S. Secretary of Labor, an old friend, after which an OSHA representative allegedly pressured her to withdraw her complaint. The allegations are denied.

Such as it is with whistleblower complaints. Virginia has a brand-new whistleblower protection act. Its provisions extend beyond the protections currently available under federal law, and it offers litigants the opportunity to have their cases heard in state courts, which are seen as more plaintiff-friendly than federal courts.

Whistleblowing serves an important societal interest – exposing wrongdoing – so whistleblowers ought to have legal protection. But one person’s whistleblowing is another person’s grousing. It remains to be seen what happens with Ms. Yeager’s case. But employees who are concerned about adherence to safety regulations should know they have rights, and employment lawyers are here to protect those rights.

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