OSHA: American Airlines must reimburse sick time for pilots


The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered American Airlines Inc. to reimburse two pilots for sick time following an investigation into the pilots’ allegations that the company retaliated against them for reporting they were too sick to fly out of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that in both cases, the airline erred in rejecting medical documentation provided by the pilots and illegally recouped sick pay already paid to the pilots, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

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The Department of Labor does not reveal names in whistleblower cases. Pilot No. 1 is from Folsom Calif., and he was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis on Dec. 27, 2007, when he called in sick, said Jeremy Eggers, a spokesman for the department. Pilot No. 2, who lives in O’Fallon, Mo., was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis on Jan. 9, 2008, when he called in sick, Eggers said.

“A policy that forces pilots to make a choice between flying when they are too sick to do so or being retaliated against violates the law,” said Charles Adkins, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, in a statement. “While OSHA is best known for ensuring the safety and health of employees, it is also the federal government’s main whistleblower protection agency.”

The airline was ordered to provide whistleblower rights information to its employees. Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.

American Airlines said it disagrees with the decision and plans to appeal. “American does not retaliate against employees and strictly adheres to the whistleblower laws,” said Tami McLallen, a spokeswoman. “Here, the pay was deducted because the pilot did not provide sufficient evidence of his illness, not because he called in sick. We never ask our pilots to fly when sick, and in fact expect them not to.

“The vast majority of American’s pilots use sick leave appropriately. In a very small fraction of cases where a pilot has been out for an extended period of time, or where there is an unusual use of sick leave, the company may ask the pilot to substantiate the use of sick time. In the vast majority of these rare cases, the pilot provides the substantiation and is paid accordingly. Only when substantiation is not provided or is insufficient as deemed by our medical department does the pilot’s sick pay come into question.”

Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines, a subsidiary of AMR Corp., is the top carrier at Lambert.