CHICAGO – Grand Trunk Western Railroad Co. has been ordered to reinstate a conductor and pay him more than $244,000 in back wages and damages following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA found that the company was in violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act for terminating an employee in Flint, Mich., for failing to perform an inspection of a passing train under hazardous safety conditions.
“When employees are disciplined for legally choosing not to conduct work tasks in unsafe environments, worker safety and health are clearly not the company’s priority,” said Nick Walters, OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago. “Whistleblower protections play an important role in keeping workplaces safe. Workers should never be forced to choose between safe work practices and keeping their job.”
Grand Trunk Western Railway, a subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway, has been ordered to pay the conductor $99,324 in back wages and benefits, less applicable employment taxes, $45,000 in compensatory and $100,000 in punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees. The company must also remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record and provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.
OSHA’s investigation upheld the employee’s allegation that the railroad terminated his employment on Feb. 26, 2013, in retaliation for reporting hazardous safety conditions and refusing to complete the dangerous tasks. Operating in dark, foggy conditions during the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2012, the conductor did not perform a required roll-by inspection of a passing train near the Flint rail yard. The train was stopped on a bridge with a steep incline down to the river, and the conductor felt this was an unsafe location for the inspection.
Following an internal investigative hearing, the railroad removed him from service and accused him of violating the company’s policy to inspect passing trains when duties and terrain permit, and subsequently terminated the employee. OSHA’s investigation, however, found that the railroad terminated the employee in retaliation for having engaged in protected conduct under the FRSA. The investigation also found that crew members of the passing train were not held to the same standard to conduct a roll-by inspection.
Either party in these cases can file an appeal with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or 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 to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, 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.