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OSHA protections for whistleblowers

On Behalf of | Aug 7, 2020 | Whistleblowing |

Now more than ever, people want to stand up for what’s right. Yet fear of retaliation, especially in the workplace, can cause hesitation. Thankfully, whistleblowers have rights – including protection from retaliation.

OSHA violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces the provisions of more than 20 federal whistleblower statutes. It provides safeguards for whistleblowers who report concerns, including:

  • Safety violations such as failure to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), inadequate fall protection, improper machine guarding or other violations of OSHA safety regulations
  • Environmental violations such as failure to properly dispose of chemicals or pollutants
  • Transportation violations involving the Federal Railroad Safety Act, the National Transit Systems Security Act and other federal transportation laws
  • Fraud or misrepresentation involving the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the Taxpayer First Act
  • Health insurance-related violations involving the Affordable Care Act
  • Product safety violations such as lead-contaminated children’s products, auto defects and other federal safety violations

The law prohibits retaliation against employees who report potential violations of any of these laws or regulations. Protected reports typically can include either verbal or written communications or concerns expressed to supervisors, Human Resources (HR) or compliance departments. Also protected are certain reasonable refusals to work in hazardous environments, so long as the refusal comes after giving the employer a reasonable opportunity to fix the workplace hazard.

Critically, a successful retaliation complaint does not require employees to prove an OSHA safety violation. Rather, safety-related complaints, concerns, and participation in health and safety activities are protected from retaliation regardless of whether an actual violation is found to exits—so long as the complaint/concern was raised in good faith.

Understanding retaliation

Retaliation is a broad term that can encompass a wide range of adverse employment actions:

  • Termination
  • Constructive discharge
  • Demotion
  • Discipline
  • Denial of benefits
  • Intimidation
  • Harassment
  • Threats
  • Isolation
  • “Blacklisting”
  • Unfavorable reassignments

These are just a few examples.

The bottom line? You shouldn’t have to risk your livelihood by speaking out against illegal or unethical conduct. If you’re considering blowing the whistle – or you’ve already done so and are experiencing any form of retaliation – talk to an employment lawyer about your situation. You may be entitled to compensation. Several of the above retaliation statutes administrated by OSHA have a very short statute of limitations: 30 days from the date of the adverse employment action. So if you have suffered an adverse employment action, contact a whistleblower retaliation lawyer immediately.