Tesla threatening to withhold severance from whistleblowers
Safety in the workplace needs to be a foremost concern for large companies. This is especially true for companies in the manufacturing industry. Heavy machinery, conveyor belts, hydraulic arms and other pieces of equipment can lead to very serious injury when employees are not properly trained to use and work around them.
Vehicle manufacturer Tesla, Inc. has been under scrutiny recently for multiple worker safety concerns. The company was initially accused of under-representing workers’ injuries and not adhering to safety standards, and now they appear to be threatening to cut employees’ severance benefits should they raise safety concerns or whistleblow after termination.
Safety may not have been Tesla’s concern
According to CNBC, Tesla repeatedly mislabeled and didn’t accurately report several injuries employees sustained while working. Rather than properly documenting the injuries, Tesla reported toxic exposures, muscle strains and stress injuries as “personal medical issues or minor accidents”. In doing this, Tesla made their safety record appear better than it actually was.
Tesla’s production facilities also did not clearly label pedestrian lanes. CEO Elon Musk allegedly did not like how pedestrian safety lanes looked when they were painted yellow, and had them repainted in shades of grey. No injuries were reported as a result, but the walkways were more difficult to see after repainting.
Possible severance withholding
Tesla recently dismissed over 3,000 workers. In the wake of this mass firing, Bloomberg reported that one employee’s confidential severance agreement forced them to acknowledge that they “had the opportunity to raise any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities against the company, and that if any safety concerns, safety complaints, or whistleblower activities were raised during [their] employment, they were addressed to [their] satisfaction.”
By agreeing to this, the employee would effectively be throwing away their ability to blow the whistle on Tesla regarding safety issues in exchange for their severance benefits. Whether the language in the agreement is simply a matter of policy or if Tesla is using it as intimidation to safeguard themselves from safety practices they know they’re sidestepping remains to be seen.
If you see something, say something
The reality is that it is not uncommon for severance agreements to include language that holds back some rights of the employee after termination. This is one reason why it is so important to immediately voice any safety concerns you have when you have them. Your employer is required by OSHA to provide a safe working environment – hold them accountable.
Be sure to report injuries immediately whether they are a result of unsafe conditions or not. If you are injured and are unable to work as a result, you will likely be entitled to workers’ compensation to cover your medical bills, lost wages, rehab costs, surgery fees and other expenses. If your workplace was at fault, it will only help your case.
Workers’ compensation works on a limited timetable. Trying to work through your injury is likely to only make things worse, and by the time you file a claim, it may already be too late. Seek legal counsel right away if you’ve been injured while working so you may seize your workers’ comp and focus on getting better.