April 24, 2014

OSHA finds Illinois Central violated whistleblower law

OSHA logo; OSHAJACKSON, Miss. – A whistleblower investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that Illinois Central Railroad Co., by conducting a disciplinary hearing, retaliated against a worker for reporting a work-related injury, which is in violation of the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

“Railroad workers have the legal right to report work-related injuries without fear of retaliation,” said Teresa A. Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Atlanta. “Railroads that take such retaliatory actions against their workers for exercising basic rights will be held fully accountable and prosecuted.”

In this case, the conductor sustained injuries to the head, neck and back when falling into the bulkhead after the emergency brake was applied unexpectedly on a moving locomotive. The incident and injuries were reported immediately to the trainmaster. The complainant was taken by ambulance to the hospital, admitted and diagnosed with a closed-head injury.

As a result of its findings, OSHA has ordered Illinois Central Railroad Co. to pay $1,000 in punitive damages and to take corrective action, including expunging disciplinary actions and its references to them from various records. OSHA also ordered the railroad to compensate the worker for reasonable attorney’s fees. The railroad must also post and provide FRSA whistleblower rights to its workers.

Illinois Central and the complainant have 30 days from receipt of the findings to file an appeal with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges. Under FRSA, employees of a railroad carrier and its contractors and subcontractors are protected against retaliation for reporting on-the-job injuries, certain safety and security violations and for cooperating with investigations by OSHA and other regulatory agencies.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities, financial services, trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, food safety, motor vehicle safety, workplace safety and health regulations and consumer product safety laws.

Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or who provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs. More information is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.