Whistleblower Laws Enforced by OSHA

Whistleblower Laws Enforced by OSHA

If your employer retaliates against you because you filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, you may have grounds to file a civil lawsuit against the employer. Retaliation occurs when your employer takes negative personnel actions in reaction to your engaging in protected activities. These include those relating to safety and health in your workplace, commercial carrier safety, air carrier safety, pipeline safety, environmental conditions, nuclear safety, corporate fraud, safety or security involving railroad carriers or public transit agencies or violations of Securities and Exchange Commission rules.

Whistleblower laws that are enforced by OSHA

OSHA is responsible for enforcing a variety of different whistleblower laws, and each one has its own deadline for filing complaints after the retaliation occurs. Here are the laws that the agency enforces as well as their deadlines:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act – 30 days
  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act – 90 days
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act – 180 days
  • National Transit Systems Security Act – 180 days
  • Federal Rail Safety Act – 180 days
  • International Safe Container Act – 60 days
  • Clean Air Act – 30 days
  • Energy Reorganization Act – 180 days
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act – 180 days
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act – 30 days
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act – 90 days
  • Safe Drinking Water Act – 30 days
  • Toxic Substances Control Act – 30 days
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act – 30 days
  • Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century – 90 days

Negative personnel actions

If your employer’s negative job action against you was prompted by your protected activity, then your employer may be found to have engaged in illegal retaliation. Some examples of retaliatory actions may include being fired or laid off, being blacklisted or demoted, not receiving a promotion or overtime, being disciplined, having your benefits denied, not being rehired, being intimidated, being given unfavorable job reassignments or having your hours or pay reduced. If you have questions about whether the action your employer took was retaliatory, contact the attorneys at Swartz Swidler for advice.

Filing a complaint

While some of the whistleblower laws allow people to file their complaints via the telephone, most require that the complaints are filed in writing. As the deadlines that have been listed demonstrate, it is important for you to file your complaint quickly after the retaliation occurs. You should start by contacting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Office that is located the closest to you. You can find the contact information for your regional office on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website.

In some states, state plans that are OSHA-approved enforce the safety and health issues. In those states, people should file their complaints with the state agency as well as the federal agency. State plans cover local and state government employees in addition to workers in the private sector.

How the agency determines whether or not retaliation occurred

In order for the agency to determine that retaliation occurred, its investigation must show that you engaged in an activity that was protected, that your employer knew about your activity, that the employer then took a negative personnel action and that your protected activity was the motivating reason behind your employer’s action.

If your evidence supports your allegation of retaliation, the agency may try to negotiate a settlement. If you and your employer are unable to reach a settlement, the agency may then issue a reinstatement order. It may also order your employer to pay you back pay, restore your benefits and other potential remedies to make you whole.

Protections are limited if you refuse to work

Your right to refuse to do work because of dangerous conditions is limited under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The law allows you to refuse to work if you believe that working would make you face serious injury or death and that you have tried to get your employer to fix the problem. You must also show that there isn’t another way to safely do the job and that it is so urgent that you do not have time to fix the problem through regulatory means. If you walk off the job, you will not be protected no matter how unsafe the condition might be.

Transportation industry whistleblower protections

Workers in the transportation industry are also protected from retaliation if their jobs affect commercial motor vehicle safety. These employees are protected when they refuse to violate safety regulations or when they report violations to the Department of Transportation. Workers may also refuse to drive a commercial vehicle because of safety violations or when they have a reasonable belief that they might be seriously injured or killed if they do so.

Air carrier employees, subcontractors and contractors who report violations or raise safety concerns about FAA rules violations are also protected. Similarly, workers in the pipeline industry are protected for reporting violations. Workers who engage in protected activity under any of the federal laws that were previously listed are protected from retaliation.

Environmental hazards and corporate fraud

Whistleblowers who report environmental hazards or corporate fraud are also protected under a variety of different federal laws. Workers who have filed complaints about their employers’ wrongdoings or who have assisted in an investigation may be protected. If you believe that your employer engaged in wrongful retaliation because you exercised your rights, you might want to schedule a consultation with the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler.