SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered a Hanford Nuclear Reservation contractor to reinstate a worker who the department says was fired for voicing concerns about nuclear and environmental safety, officials announced Wednesday.
Richland-based Washington River Protection Solutions, a subsidiary of URS Corporation and Energy Solutions, was also ordered to pay $220,000 in back wages and other expenses.
The company denies the allegations that the worker was fired in retaliation.
But the labor department said the contractor violated federal whistleblower provisions. The worker first blew the whistle on nuclear and environmental safety and permit and record-keeping violations in 2009, according to the labor department. The worker was fired two years later and unsuccessfully re-applied for the job in 2012. The reason for the initial firing was "poor performance."
"The people most able to identify hazards are often the workers who are threatened by them," Galen Lemke, the labor department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration acting regional administrator, said in a statement. "Employees must never be punished for sounding an alarm when they see a problem that could injure, sicken or kill someone, or harm the environment."
Washington River Protection Solutions said Wednesday that the employee was not fired for voicing safety concerns, but as part of 200 layoffs undertaken to "align employment levels with project work scope and federal funding."
The company is reviewing the labor department's order and has not decided whether it will appeal before an administrative law judge.
"Each (Washington River Protection Solutions) employee is empowered and encouraged to raise safety or other workplace concerns," the company stated.
The labor department did not name the employee, citing its policy on how to handle whistleblower cases.
Hanford, located in central Washington state, made plutonium for nuclear weapons for decades. It contains the nation's greatest collection of nuclear waste, and for more than two decades it has been engaged in the dangerous work of cleaning up that waste.