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November 08, 2013
OSHA sues employer for retaliating against a whistleblower; Don't make similar mistakes

OSHA is serious about protecting the rights of whistleblowers. The agency recently filed a complaint in district court against an Idaho paper company for allegedly retaliating against an employee who spoke up about safety and health concerns.

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The employee informed OSHA of his concern, and agency personnel came to the worksite to conduct an inspection. Soon after, the worker was suspended, and then ultimately fired.

OSHA Chief David Michaels calls raising a workplace safety and health concern “a courageous act of good citizenship.” He adds, “Not a single worker should fear harassment, intimidation, or a disciplinary action for contributing to a safe and healthy workplace.”

Do your employees know their whistleblower rights? Do you?

OSHA enforces a variety of federal whistleblower laws, not just those that address safety and health. Among them are laws regarding safe drinking water, pipeline safety, transit, food safety, water pollution, and railroad safety.

As an employer, OSHA may find that you illegally retaliated against an employee if “protected activity” was a factor in your decision to take unfavorable personnel action such as:

  • Blacklisting;
  • Demoting;
  • Denying overtime, promotion, or benefits;
  • Disciplining;
  • Failing to hire or rehire;
  • Firing or laying off;
  • Intimidation or threats;
  • Reassignment to a less desirable position;
  • Reducing pay or hours; or
  • Suspension.

Once OSHA receives a whistleblower complaint, the agency will review it to determine if it is valid. If evidence supports the employee’s allegation of retaliation and a settlement cannot be reached, OSHA typically issues an order, which the employer can contest. It may require reinstatement of the employee in addition to paying of back wages, restoring benefits, and other measures.

Learn more about whistleblower rights and your duty under the law at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

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