Two employees of a North Texas dental practice will share $15,706 in back wages to be paid by the dentists who fired them for raising concerns about COVID-19 safety measures in 2020, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The two workers at Roger H. Bohannan DDS Inc., a dental practice in North Richland Hills, were the subject of a federal whistleblower investigation and litigation by the U.S. Department of Labor. The investigation found the owners of the practice, Roger Bohannan and David Bohannan, illegally fired two of their workers — a hygienist and a dental assistant — in 2020.
OSHA determined the owners discriminated against the employees for exercising their right to express concerns about their safety and health.
“Like all workers, these two people had every right to speak up without the fear of losing their jobs,” said OSHA Dalla Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in a press release. “We want workers to know that OSHA is here to protect their rights, and we won’t hesitate to exercise our authority when they are violated.”
In March 2020, Roger Bohannan and David Bohannan furloughed their employees after Texas prohibited specific dental procedures at the height of the pandemic, according to the Labor Department. The owners laid off most of the staff on March 30, 2020. In mid-April 2020, the office manager called staff members and asked them if they would return to work since the state executive order was set to end on April 21, 2020.
One of the workers emailed back and asked what COVID safety precautions the practice would implement to protect employees. She exchanged emails with the defendants expressing her concerns about performing procedures on patients that she believed were not allowed, At one point, David Bohannan withdrew the offer to rehire her, according to the complaint. The practice also did not reinstate an employee who cited guidance from OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the release.
In July 2021, the Labor Department filed a lawsuit against the dentists in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division. On Feb. 3, 2023, the court entered a consent judgment in which the dental practice agreed to pay the back wages. The judgment also forbids the employers from future violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and requires them to provide neutral work references for wrongfully terminated employees.
This tale was originally printed February 21, 2023, 4:15 PM.