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OSHA Affirms Whistleblower Protection For Employees Reporting Workplace Injuries

Reporting work-related injuries and illnesses is “a core employee right,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has pointed out, “and retaliating against a worker for reporting an injury or illness is illegal discrimination.”

In a March 12 memo, OSHA noted, “If employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk,” the memo points out. “Employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries, and injured employees may not receive the proper medical attention, or the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled. Ensuring that employees can report injuries or illnesses without fear of retaliation are therefore crucial to protecting worker safety and health.”

The memo advises OSHA regional administrators and whistleblower program managers to be aware of four potentially discriminating policies employers may have regarding an employee who reports an on-the-job injury:

  • Taking disciplinary action regardless of the circumstances of the injury;
  • Disciplining an employee for violating an employer rule about the time or manner for reporting injuries and illnesses;
  • Disciplining an employee for an injury that resulted from the employee violating a safety rule, and

Offering incentives to not report injuries; for example, offering prizes to employees who were not injured in the previous year.

OSHA also said that the practice of linking management and supervisor bonuses to lower accident reporting could be potentially discriminatory. “Such policies could discourage reporting of injuries and could be considered unlawful discrimination,” the memo stated.

Retaliation against an employee for reporting an occupational injury is a violation of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

To see the memo in its entirety, visit www.osha.gov/as/opa/whistleblowermemo.html.

Department of Labor Sues USPS for Whistleblower Violations

The threat of retaliation is real concern for postal employees who report injuries or who assist injured employees in exercising their rights.

On Feb. 27, the U.S. Department of Labor sued the U.S. Postal Service alleging the Postal Service engaged in discrimination and retaliation against a safety specialist who provided information to an employee wishing to file a safety complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA’s investigation determined that the Postal Service followed a pattern of adverse actions against the safety specialist, who was assigned to the Seattle Processing and Distribution Center after learning that he had assisted an employee in exercising her rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

That employee later filed a formal complaint with OSHA alleging unhealthful conditions at the facility. The specialist subsequently suffered a series of reprimands, was restricted from contact with staff at the facility, and was transferred to an office without the necessary equipment to perform his job.

The investigation also found that the USPA reassigned many of the specialist’s duties to an individual with a lower pay grade and did not select him for a promotion because of his interactions with OSHA despite acknowledging him as qualified for the position.

The DOL is asking the court to remedy the situation by ordering a permanent injunction against the Postal Service to prevent future violations of the law. The suit also asks for appropriate relief to the safety specialist, including the payment of lost wages and benefits, plus compensatory damages for emotional distress.

Click here for more information on the suit.

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