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Boss Wants Possible Chemical/Fetal Injury Kept Quiet California

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  • Boss Wants Possible Chemical/Fetal Injury Kept Quiet California

    I sustained a chemical injury (5%PPD by Qualified Medical Examiner) cleaning medical devices from a detergent that improperly contained a phenoxyethanol compound intended solely for use in cosmetics back in 2007. My employer hired an Industrial Hygienist who did an air study and reported volatile organic compounds in the air were non-existent. My employer then asked me to sign a one page "memorandum" that I would not discuss my concerns regarding the medical device with anyone but her, human resources, my doctor, or the safety officer.

    I transferred to a different entity of the same healthcare conglomerate and initiated an complaint against the Industrial Hygienist. The complaint process produced documents from our safety officer (who witnessed the air study) that indicated they were in fact detecting low level volatile organic compounds during the study. The Industrial Hygienist apparently had inappropriately fudged the numbers into sweet nothings for the sake of a tidy report. The hygienist's certifying board cautioned him to do more accurate and complete reporting in the future, but did not find his actions in violations of their ethics rules.

    The air study was initially ordered within a month after the employee who took over my duties cleaning the machines (who was well into a pregnancy) developed a pregnancy complication requiring immediate surgery (C-Section) and major resuscitation of the infant in ICU. The pregnancy complication could well not have resulted from the chemical exposure, but I found a document published in JAMA that indicated this type of complication was substantially more common in employees exposed to "phenols and aliphatic chemicals" (which this detergent contained) while pregnant.

    I reported this finding to my boss, but she said since the Industrial Hygienist's report indicated there were no volatile organic compounds present in the air, there could have been no harm to the pregnant worker or her fetus. The documents I have showing there were in fact VOC's in the air are supposed to be a confidential part of the ethics review process. The medical device company changed to a different detergent that did not contain the phenoxyethanol compound, and I simply let the matter slide in order to save my job.

    The medical unit where I currently work has now informed me they intend to start using this medical device in my unit, and asked about my issues with the device. I produced documents pertaining to my work restrictions, and the gag-order I had signed back in 2007 with my old boss, asking if this was still in effect. I believe they are digging back into the dirt that went on in my old unit and are going to realize I may "know too much" about the hazardous nature of the device. I believe they are preparing a new request I keep silent about this.

    When I signed the first gag-order, I had not yet obtained the documentation showing the shenanigans that went on with the air study or information the chemicals that injured me were hazardous to pregnant women, so I signed this in a state of relative innocence. Knowing what I do now, I feel signing a new agreement might technically involve me in conspiring to conceal evidence of possible harm to a child, which I assume is a criminal offence. I had read there was no statute of limitations on offences of this nature back in 2007 (in California), but that there was an attempt to place limitations on complaints of this kind going on.

    I like my job... The medical device company has changed to a less toxic detergent, and this all seems like ancient history now, but I still have strong reservations about signing a new agreement never to disclose what I learned about what happened back in 2007. I don't even know if the child suffered any permanent injury from the incident, but the nurses described him as "the sickest child in the ICU" at the time. The nurse who had the pregnancy complication still works at my old unit, but I have never disclosed what I found out about what happened.

    Any advice about the legal ramifications of signing new agreements to keep quiet on this matter, or whether it is even legal for my employer to ask me to do this would be greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    You need to actually pay to talk to a lawyer. Your questions are way beyong what should be asked and answered on an internet message board.
    I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.

    Comment


    • #3
      Agree with Elle. I would speak with a local attorney about any culpability you might have.

      Comment


      • #4
        Thanks for the responses. I did speak to my family attorney back when this all started. He didn't have much to offer as he didn't have a lot of experience or expertise in this area.

        I don't have the financial resources to invest a tremendous amount of money retaining a corporate lawyer to manage this. My employer on the other hand has enough resources to outspend me into oblivion. This is not a hill I wish to die on!

        I'm simply trying to determine if it is wise to sign any further documentation that might incriminate me if this can of worms ever gets opened. What agency might it be appropriate to approach on this matter? Child Protective Services? NIOSH/OSHA?

        Comment


        • #5
          There is no agency which is going to give you sound advice on signing a legal document. That isn't the purview of any federal or state agency. It is a contract law issue and an attorney is your only option. If you are looking for lower cost legal advice, try a local legal aid clinic or law school clinic.
          I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks ElleMD, I'll have to see what I can find... I'm not all that against signing a new agreement. I simply want to know if I may be committing a crime by doing so, or if perhaps my employer is by asking me to do this.

            Web searches only seem to come up with concealment of injury by parents or daycare employees. I'm hoping if I explain the situation to my new boss, she may get a bit spooked by the whole thing and not push for documents on the matter. She has asked H.R. for advise on this and knows nothing about what went on next door. Knowing Human Resources, they won't be happy without a document. I hope H.R. will run this through the hospital legal team and they may advise it would be unwise to start generating new documents on this matter.

            Comment


            • #7
              Agreed with all of the other answers. I will add that signing a contract generally does not make statutory law go away. You signing my contract allowing you to speed without consequences does not make local speeding laws go away because I never had the authority to make them go away in the first place. One cannot bargin with something they never had in the first place. The employer cannot legally bargin with something they never legally controlled in the first place. HOWEVER this is very technical stuff, very specific to the exact wording of the contract (which none of us has read) and very specific to the laws maybe being broken.

              One more time, you have to talk to a local attorney specializing in this stuff and he/she needs to read the contract in it's entirely and ask a bunch of questions. No easy answers here.
              "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
              Philip K. **** (1928-1982)

              Comment


              • #8
                Good points DAW... My concern is that generating additional documents on the matter at this time will generate additional evidence of trying to obfuscate a criminal act. I had no knowledge the air study my employer had done was a Sham-Show when I signed the first document... I do now!

                Haven't heard any news on the matter all week. No news is good news; unless there's a pressure cooker brewing up a nasty stew that's ready to pop.

                Thank you all for your help with this!

                Comment

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