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Beware of Whistleblower and Retaliation Claims

When you think of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), you probably think of technical workplace safety regulations.  However, don’t forget that OSHA is also responsible for enforcing the whistleblower provisions of twenty-two federal laws with anti-retaliation provisions.

OSHA maintains a separate website section for whistleblower issues at www.whistleblowers.gov.

OSHA received 2,787 whistleblower complaints during the last fiscal year.  More than half were complaints of retaliation for reporting workplace safety issues.  Complaints are expected to increase this year, because as of December 5, 2013, individuals may file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA using a simple online form.

The online option makes it easier for tech-savvy employees to file whistleblower complaints, but it otherwise does not change the complaint process.  The complaining party must still submit identifying information – complaints cannot be submitted anonymously.

OSHA was recently in the news for filing suit against AT&T.  The lawsuit alleges that in thirteen separate incidents, AT&T employees were given one- to three-day suspensions for reporting injuries that occurred on the job.  AT&T claimed that the suspensions occurred because each employee violated a corporate workplace safety standard.  After an investigation, however, OSHA concluded that the suspensions were retaliatory.

The takeaway: be very careful when considering discipline for an employee who has reported an injury, a workplace safety issue or an alleged violation of the law.  Whistleblower and retaliation complaints are easy to file and difficult to disprove.

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