EHS Administration, Enforcement and Inspection

OSHA Orders Wells Fargo to Pay Whistleblower $22 Million

On September 1, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that Wells Fargo violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act by improperly terminating a Chicago area-based senior manager in the company’s commercial banking segment. The agency ordered the San Francisco-based bank to pay the employee more than $22 million to cover back wages, front pay, interest, lost benefits and bonuses, and compensatory damages.

“The evidence demonstrates Wells Fargo took retaliatory action against this senior manager for repeatedly expressing concerns about financial management they believed violated federal laws,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said in an agency statement.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 first established OSHA’s whistleblower

protection authority. The agency is now responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints under more than 20 federal statutes, including Sarbanes-Oxley.

OSHA’s Chicago regional office initiated an investigation after receiving a complaint from the employee. Wells Fargo violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, according to OSHA, when the bank terminated a senior manager who had repeatedly voiced concerns to area managers and the corporate ethics line regarding conduct the manager believed violated relevant financial laws, including wire fraud.

The manager expressed concerns that they were directed to falsify customer information and alleged that bank management was engaged in price fixing and interest rate collusion through exclusive dealing.

OSHA is responsible for whistleblower protection under federal statutes for aviation, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, food, motor vehicle, nuclear, and pipeline safety, as well as anti-money laundering, criminal antitrust, environmental, financial reform, health insurance reform, maritime, public transportation, railroad, securities, and tax laws.

OSHA files antiretaliation suit against Texas newspaper

The Department of Labor (DOL) alleges the Killeen Daily Herald newspaper in Killeen, Texas, fired an employee who complained to the newspaper’s management that they believed fleas had infested their workplace, leaving them with bug bites.

Following an OSHA investigation, the DOL filed a whistleblower protection suit on August 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas asking the court to compel the employer to reinstate and pay the employee back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages; expunge the employee’s personnel record; and provide other remedies.

“Rather than addressing an employee’s concerns about the safety and health of their workplace, the Killeen Daily Herald terminated their reporter who sought to prevent workplace exposure to unknown diseases carried by the insects,” Eric S. Harbin, OSHA’s Dallas regional administrator, said in an agency statement.

“When employers retaliate against their workers for reporting unsafe working conditions, the department will work vigorously to secure the appropriate legal redress for workers,” Regional Solicitor of Labor John Rainwater said.

OSHA determined that in May and June 2021, the reporter sent messages to company management complaining about the infestation and bug bites. The employee then had the bugs examined and learned they identified as “no-see-ums” or “biting midges.” The employee shared the additional information with Killeen Daily Herald management, and the company responded by terminating the reporter.

The Killeen Daily Herald is owned by Frank Mayborn Enterprises Inc., as is the Temple Daily Telegram, according to OSHA.