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commiting a safety violation that I didn't know was a safety violation

I worked at a Corrugated Factory for 9 years. They closed the plant and I lost my job. There was another plant belonging to the same company about an hour away, they called me and wanted to hire me. I accepted.

They gave me my old employee number, my checks reflected all my previous pay, deductions, etc, I got my 3 weeks vacation back that I had before, BUT they said I was a "NEW HIRE" and I didn't get my seniority. I don't understand if I was a "new hire" why everything even my insurance converted back to where I was at my old position. I was supposed to have a week of training, but they said because I worked at the other factory for nine years and was a did a great job I was ready after only one day. They said everything was done the same there as the previous factory I worked for. I even had one of my old supervisors.

Everything went great until July 2 when I was to clean a pit that was covered by an iron grate. After I cleaned it I was replacing the grate on the "lip" that it sits on. I was lifting one corner of the iron grate to put it back on the lip and the corner slipped and caught my finger between the cement and the grate itself. I had to have stitches. I was cleared to go back to work the next work day..which I agreed to do. This is the same job that I had done at the other factory. I did it the exact same way for years. Never one time was I told that I was to get "help" to lift a corner of the grate and never one time was I written up or verbally reprimanded for doing it. Even when the accident happened my supervisors never said a thing about me violating any safety rules. Nothing was EVER mentioned to me about any safety violation.

At the hospital, they told me to come back to work on July 6 (they were closed for the 4th holiday) which I did. When I got there they said the man that had to clear me to go back to work was not working to go home and he would be in the next day. Again NOTHING was discussed or even mentioned about a safety violation.

I was called BY PHONE on the 7th by the plant manager who told me they were letting me go because of a safety violation. I was floored. I told him this was the first I had heard about any violation and asked him what violation he was talking about. He said I was to ask for help in lifting the corner of the grate. I removed the grate alone and no one said anything then either. I told him I had done it that way for years and no one had ever told me I needed help. I was not told that in my training, while I was doing it, or after the accident by my supervisor either so how was I to KNOW I was committing a violation that I didn't know existed. He said "you just should have known!". That was the end of my job! Now I am I don't understand how that can work, that an employer can fire you for something you didn't know existed, let alone try to keep you from getting unemployment benefits.

Oh, come on .. it happens all the time. This plant is probably cutting back too and it was convenient for them to let you go and fight your unemployment.

Safety rule violations are taken seriously .. there is no doubt that breaking one of these rules that put the employer in non-compliance with OSHA can "cause harm to the employer's interest", but they still need to prove you were trained and should have reasonably known about the rule and the expectations if you break the rule .. People who work in manufacturing are very familiar with how they do that. If a new rule or reg needs to be covered and training needs to be in place .. you all initial a little piece of paper acknowledging that you received the training and are now aware of this rule or requirement .. everyone's personnel file gets a copy of this for later use should you break the rule.

Now I do have some concerns and or doubts about how they might try to sustain this at hearing .. if you had been doing it for nine years the same and never once heard word one until you had to get some stitches, but more than that .. If they were classifying you as a "new hire" .. in the different plant .. they should have followed through with all the paperwork involved for a new hire.

A safety violation should be written down and accompanied by your signed acknowledgment that you knew of the rule .. "you should have known better" ain't going to fly very well .. especially if you're a "new hire".

I think at the most .. without proof from the employer .. it will be seen as a ONE TIME INADVERTENT ERROR .. at least that's how I would present the information.


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