Ask The Lawyer – I think I was laid off because I complained.


QUESTION: Until recently, I worked at a large company. The building had an office inside a large warehouse area in which vehicles were often tested. Sometimes I could smell the fumes from the vehicles, but it didn’t bother me. One day, the fumes from the vehicles were so bad that you could see the smoke in the office area. Everyone complained, but they kept working. After several hours, I felt too ill to work, and asked to go home early. I was told I could leave, but I would not be paid. The next day I talked to my supervisor, and argued that I should be paid for the time off, or at least allowed to make it up, because the fumes were probably a violation of the law and I should report them. Two weeks later, I was one of several employees laid off. I had more seniority than workers who were not laid off, I worked on an active part of the program, and had received nothing but good reviews. I think I was laid off because I complained. Can I sue my former employer?

ANSWER: You may have a case of retaliation, but you should discuss the facts more fully with an attorney before you decide to file suit.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act – OSHA – you can file a complaint if the employer retaliates against you because you “engaged in a protected activity” relating to workplace safety or health. This includes raising a safety or health issue with the employer. Michigan’s Whistleblower’s Protection Act states an employer may not discharge, threaten or “otherwise discriminate against an employee regarding the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions location or privileges of employment” because the employee “reports or is about to report” a suspected violation of a regulation or rule.

Issues include whether your statement to your employer constituted protected activity, and whether the statements indicated you were “about to report” a suspected violation. Under Michigan law, your assessment of whether the practice complained of violated a regulation must be based on a good faith belief there was a violation. Note that once you raise a claim of retaliation, your former employer will try to present evidence to show that you were laid off for an issue unrelated to your complaint.

If you can prove you were laid off in retaliation for your threatened complaint, you may very well have a case – and may want to get in touch with a lawyer.

The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at

Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.

GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC, is a Troy based law firm representing clients from Warren, Sterling Heights, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Oakland and Wayne Counties and all of Southeast Michigan

By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3300
(248) 247-3310 facsimile
[email protected]