Modernizing Protections for Whistleblowers

by Anthony Rosa on April 30, 2014 · 5 comments

Late last year a worker in New York reported to his supervisors that paint fumes were making him and his coworkers sick. Just like every worker in America, he had the right to raise these safety and health concerns to his employer. That’s a protected activity under section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. But days later, he was fired.

Concerned that his rights had been violated, he filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration claiming illegal retaliation in the workplace. Unfortunately, because he missed the 30-day deadline, OSHA wasn’t even able to open a case, let alone help him get justice. This is a frustratingly common occurrence, and our workers deserve better.

Whistleblowers serve a critical function in our society – shining light on illegal, unethical, or dangerous practices that could threaten public welfare in many ways. OSHA protects workers’ right to speak up, enforcing the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes ranging from public transportation and railroads to health insurance and securities.

Yet more than half of the anti-retaliation complaints we receive every year are 11(c) complaints – meaning they come from workers who have been fired, disciplined, or otherwise punished for raising a safety and health concern on the job. Unfortunately, OSHA’s original whistleblower statute is also our weakest and our most outdated. It’s time for a change.

One of the most basic changes workers need is to extend the deadline for submitting an 11(c) complaint. Thirty days is simply not enough time. All the most recently enacted whistleblower statutes give workers 180 days to file a complaint from the date they were punished. We need to make sure workers who face retaliation for raising safety and health concerns have the same amount of time.

Workers also need help to get back on the job as soon as possible. When a worker files a complaint, the process can be very lengthy – and for someone who has been illegally terminated, every week without a paycheck can be a struggle. OSHA has the authority to order preliminary reinstatement for terminated workers for many other statutes. But when it comes to 11(c), only a District Court can require reinstatement. OSHA needs to be able to do more for these workers, including helping them get back to work right away.

These are just two of several changes that would ensure that workers’ right to a safe workplace OSH Act rights are protected. Protecting whistleblowers means protecting the workforce – and we can’t do that with outdated statutes! To read about all of the proposed changes, watch Assistant Secretary Michaels’ April 29, 2014 testimony before the Senate subcommittee on employment and workplace safety.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than twenty whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. Rights afforded by these whistleblower acts include, but are not limited to, worker participation in safety and health activities, reporting a work related injury, illness or fatality, or reporting a violation of the statutes.

Anthony Rosa is the Acting Deputy Director for Whistleblower Protection Programs.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 wander richardson May 1, 2014 at 10:31 am

Protection is very important not only to the whisleblower but to the victims of the unsafe practices.

It encourages workers to be pro-active.

2 wander richardson May 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

Important protection. In the past I posted a complaint also.

Worksite will have more accidents and hazardous conditions.

3 Twitter flights May 2, 2014 at 2:21 am

Percentage are on the increase in protected areas where an employer is still in disbelief of what their inefficiencies are and employers cause millions of taxpayer’s money because they don’t follow constitutionally protected rights, they break laws, Federal and state and the employer is protected by bias covered up information. From supervisors, manager’s, directors, even their hotline that is to protect employees is all biased information and covered up. There would not be a
“Whistleblower” act, rule, law ETC. if the employers WOULD follow rules. Boy if an employee does the slightest incorrect little tiny mistake. THE EMPLOYEE IS crusified, latterly. …. The employer has the means to financially support and cover up their inefficiencies. Employees do not in all cases they loose in all ways….. think about it….

4 mcclung May 18, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Thirty days to report retaliation under 11(c) is not just unduly restrictive, but the restriction could be used to protect the wrong party. Congress clearly sought to protect the whistleblower, but a thirty day limitation would protect an OSHA violator who leverages the passage of time to bound legal risk. Some organizations might terminate a whistleblower or other victim of discrimination when an employee is viewed as unlikely to report retaliation within 30 days. The 11(c) restriction is similar to the limited functioning of the first definition of disability in the ADA. There is another serious aspect, however, that in this regulation, as written, there is potential to have related information suppressed concerning surreptitious harm the health or existence of individuals.
Just how did the ADA Amendment Act of 2008 pass with such popularity? Should an amendment concerning 11(c) be simple and acceptable so as to make certain its prompt passage?

5 Rebecca Ryan July 17, 2014 at 7:37 am

The DOL needs to advertise that whistleblower protection is available
to Postal workers. We are in constant fear of retaliation so we do not
come forward. We watch is dismay the waste, fraud and abuse on a daily
basis and remain mute.

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