OSHA has announced that it wants to obtain stakeholder views on its whistleblower program. To launch this effort, the agency says it will hold a public meeting in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2018, to solicit comments and suggestions from stakeholders in the railroad and trucking industries, including employers, employees, and representatives of employers and employees, on issues facing the agency in administering whistleblower protection for these sectors.
OSHA enforces whistleblower protection under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and 21 additional statutes, three of which are specific to employees in either the trucking or railroad industries.
Retaliation By Railroad Employers
In recent years, whistleblower retaliation has been a concern in the railroad and trucking sectors. In October 2015, AllGov.com reported that between 2007 and 2015, railroads were the subject of more than 2,000 retaliation complaints whistleblowers filed with OSHA. More than half the complaints alleged retaliation against workers who reported personal injuries.
Retaliation appears to be reported less frequently in the trucking sector, but OSHA has publicized multiple instances of enforcement against employers in this sector who did retaliate against whistleblowers.
For example, in June 2016, OSHA ordered a company to reinstate a truck driver and pay him a $276,000 in back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. According to OSHA, the driver had failed to reach his assigned delivery destination because of a storm, flooded roads, and vehicle accidents. The driver decided to drop off the shipment at another customer location. The driver said he could not complete the delivery without violating the hours-of-service restrictions in the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations. The next day he was fired for insubordination.
According to Whistleblowers.gov, there are four statutes containing whistleblower protections for trucking and railroad employees:
- Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) protects employees of railroad carriers and their contractors and subcontractors who report a hazardous safety or security condition, a violation of any federal law or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or the abuse of public funds appropriated for railroad safety. In addition, the statute protects employees who refuse to work when confronted by a hazardous safety or security condition.
- Surface Transportation Assistance Act protects truck drivers and other employees who refuse to violate regulations related to the safety of commercial motor vehicles or who report violations of those regulations.
- National Transit Systems Security Act protects transit employees who report a hazardous safety or security condition, a violation of any federal law relating to public transportation agency safety, or the abuse of federal grants or other public funds appropriated for public transportation. The Act also protects public transit employees who refuse to work when confronted by a hazardous safety or security condition or refuse to violate a federal law related to public transportation safety.
- OSH Act. Section 11(c) provides protection for employees who exercise a variety of rights guaranteed under the Act, such as filing a safety and health complaint with OSHA and participating in an inspection.
OSHA’s notice for the public meeting is available here.