July 30, 2014

OSHA follows through on whistle-blower complaints

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — A Union Pacific machinist here was ordered rehired with back pay in a ruling by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) that found Union Pacific violated the worker’s rights under the Federal Rail Safety Act of 2007.

OSHA ruled that in firing the machinist, after he had reported a work-related injury, Union Pacific had improperly retaliated against him.

The railroad also was ordered to post a workplace notice admitting it was found to have retaliated against an employee for reporting a work-related injury.

In December 2010, OSHA ordered a UTU member employed by BNSF to be reinstated with back pay after finding BNSF guilty of improper retaliation after the worker filed an injury report with the Federal Railroad Administration.

The Federal Rail Safety Act of 2007 protects rail workers from retaliation and threats of retaliation when they report injuries, report that a carrier violated safety laws or regulations, or if the employee refuses to work under certain unsafe conditions or refuses to authorize the use of any safety related equipment.

Retaliation, including threats of retaliation, is defined as firing or laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, disciplining, denying benefits, failing to rehire, intimidation, reassignment affecting promotion prospects, or reducing pay or hours.

An employer also is prohibited from disciplining an employee for requesting medical or first-aid treatment, or for following a physician’s orders, a physician’s treatment plan, or medical advice.

This protection is known as “whistle-blower protection,” and the federal law is enforced by OSHA, as it was against UP and BNSF.

Relief may include reinstatement with the same seniority and benefits, back pay with interest, compensatory damages (including witness and legal fees), and punitive damages as high as $250,000.

A rail employee may file the complaint directly with OSHA, or may contact a UTU designated legal counsel, general chairperson or state legislative director for assistance.

A listing of UTU designated legal counsel is available at www.utu.org, or may be obtained from local or general committee officers or state legislative directors.

To view a more detailed OSHA fact sheet, click on the following link:

http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-factsheet-whistleblower-railroad.pdf