OSHA Aims to Protect Whistleblowers

An employee who reports workplace safety violations now has more protection against employer retaliation, due to new whistleblower rules recently created by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Significant changes to the Whistleblower Protections Program include a restructuring of the administration of the program that requires mandatory national training for investigators, updated policies and procedures reflecting changes in the law, and updated "internal systems," including a new data collection system and a new auditing program.

The new measures strengthen enforcement of existing whistleblower laws. These new provisions should improve administration of the program and improve the "consistency and quality of investigations" against employers who are allegedly violating safety regulations. The changes should also ensure complaints are handled in a more timely fashion.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, whistleblowers benefit from several protections afforded under the Act, which was created in 1970 to encourage the reduction of workplace hazards and institute programs for safety and health. Section 11(C) of the Act protects employees from being retaliated against for asserting certain protected rights.

Employees who believe they have been the victim of retaliation by their employer for participating in conduct protected under the Act may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor. Protecting safety violation whistleblowers is a crucial step in preventing workplace injury.

Not every employer action is considered a violation of the whistleblower law, however. First, the employee must show he engaged in an activity protected under the Act. He also must demonstrate that the employer knew he was engaged in the activity, and that his employer subjected him to an "adverse action." Finally, the employee must assert that the employer authorized the adverse action because of that activity, or that the adverse act was motivated by the employee's protected activity.

Retaliatory actions that are considered adverse, depending upon the circumstances, may include firing or laying off the employee, blacklisting the employing, demoting or denying the employee a promotion or overtime, and disciplining, intimidating, or threatening the employee, to name a few.

If you have been retaliated against after asserting your rights to your employer, please contact an experienced attorney to explore your options.