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OSHA Whistleblower Protection

You may file a complaint with OSHA  if your employer retaliates against you by taking  unfavorable personnel action because  you engaged in protected activity relating to workplace safety and health, commercial motor carrier safety, pipeline safety, air carrier safety, nuclear safety, the  environment, asbestos  in schools,  corporate fraud, SEC rules  or regulations, railroad carrier safety or security, or public  transportation agency  safety or security.

Whistleblower Laws Enforced by OSHA

Each law requires  that complaints be filed within a certain number  of days after the alleged retaliation.

You may file complaints by telephone  or in writing under the:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (30 days)
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act (180 days)
  •  Asbestos Hazard Emergency  Response Act (90 days)
  • International Safe Container Act (60 days)
  • Federal Rail Safety Act (180 days)
  • National Transit Systems Security Act (180 days)

  Under the following laws, complaints must be filed in writing:

  • Clean Air Act (30 days)
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (30 days)
  • Energy Reorganization Act (180 days)
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act (30 days)
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (180 days)
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (30 days)
  • Sarbanes-Oxley  Act (90 days)
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act (30 days)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (30 days)
  • Wendell  H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (90 days)

Unfavorable Personnel Actions

Your employer may be found  to have retaliated against you if your protected  activity  was a contributing or motivating factor in its decision  to take unfavorable  personnel  action against you.

Such actions may include:

  • Firing or laying  off
  • Blacklisting
  • Demoting
  • Denying  overtime or promotion
  • Disciplining
  • Denying  benefits
  • Failing to hire or rehire
  • Intimidation
  • Reassignment  affecting  promotion prospects
  • Reducing pay or hours

Filing  a Complaint

If you believe that your employer retaliated  against you because you exercised your legal rights  as an employee,  contact your local OSHA office as soon as possible,  because you must file your complaint within the legal time limits.  OSHA conducts an in-depth interview with  each complainant to determine whether  to conduct an investigation. For more information,  call your closest OSHA Regional Office:

  • Boston                      (617) 565-9860
  • New York                  (212) 337-2378
  • Philadelphia            (215) 861-4900
  • Atlanta                      (404) 562-2300
  • Chicago                    (312) 353-2220
  • Dallas                       (972) 850-4145
  • Kansas City             (816) 283-8745
  • Denver                      (720) 264-6550
  • San Francisco         (415) 625-2547
  • Seattle                      (206) 553-5930

Addresses, fax numbers  and other contact information for these offices can be found on OSHA's website, www.osha.gov, and in local directories. Some complaints  must be filed in writing and some may be filed verbally  (call your local OSHA office for assistance). Written  complaints may be filed by mail (we recommend certified  mail), fax, or hand-delivered during business hours. The date postmarked, faxed or handdelivered  is considered  the date filed.

If retaliation for protected  activity  relating  to occupational  safety and health issues takes place in a state that operates an OSHA-approved state plan, the complaint  should be filed with  the state agency, although persons in those states may file with  Federal OSHA at the same time. Although the Occupationalealth Act covers only private  sector employees,  state plans also cover state and local government employees. For details, see http://www.osha.gov/fso/osp/ index.html.

How  OSHA  Determines Whether Retaliation Took  Place

The investigation must reveal that:

  • The employee  engaged in protected  activity;
  • The employer knew about the protected  activity;
  • The employer took an adverse action; and
  • The protected  activity  was the motivating factor (or under some laws, a contributing factor) in the decision to take the adverse action against the employee.

If the evidence supports  the employee's allegation and a settlement cannot be reached, OSHA will  issue an order requiring the employer to reinstate  the employee,  pay back wages, restore benefits,  and other possible  remedies  to make the employee  whole.

Limited Protections for Employees Who Refuse to Work

You have a limited right  under the OSH Act to refuse to do a job because conditions are hazardous. You may do so under the OSH Act only when (1) you believe that you face death or serious injury  (and the situation is so clearly hazardous that any reasonable person would  believe the same thing);  (2) you have tried to get your employer to correct the condition, and there is no other way to do the job safely; and (3) the situation is so urgent  that you do not have time to eliminate the hazard through regulatory channels such as calling  OSHA.

Regardless of the unsafe condition, you are not protected if you simply  walk off the job. For details, see http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/refuse.html. OSHA cannot enforce union contracts  or state laws that give employees  the right  to refuse to work.

Whistleblower Protections in the Transportation Industry

Employees  whose jobs directly  affect commercial motor  vehicle safety are protected  from  retaliation by their employers for refusing  to violate  orfor reporting violations of Department of Transportation (DOT) motor carrier safety standards  or regulations, or refusing to operate a vehicle because of such violations or because they have a reasonable  apprehension of death or serious injury.

Similarly, employees  of air carriers, their contractors or subcontractors who raise safety concerns or report violations of FAA rules and regulations are protected from  retaliation, as are employees  of owners  and operators  of pipelines,  their contractors and subcontractors  who report  violations of pipeline  safety rules and regulations.  Employees  involved in international shipping who report  unsafe shipping containers  are also protected.  In addition, employees  of railroad  carriers or public  transportation agencies, their contractors or subcontractors who report  safety or security conditions or violations of federal rules and regulations relating  to railroad  or public  transportation safety or security  are protected  from  retaliation.

Whistleblower Protections for Voicing Environmental Concerns

A number  of laws protect  employees  who report  violations  of environmental laws related to drinking water and water pollution, toxic substances, solid waste disposal,  air quality  and air pollution, asbestos in schools, and hazardous waste disposal  sites. The Energy Reorganization Act protects  employees  who raise safety concerns in the nuclear power  industry and in nuclear medicine.

Whistleblower Protections When  Reporting Corporate Fraud

Employees  who work for publicly traded companies or companies  required  to file certain reports  with  the Securities  and Exchange Commission are protected from  retaliation for reporting alleged mail, wire, or bank fraud; violations of rules or regulations of the SEC, or federal laws relating  to fraud against shareholders.

More  Information

To obtain  more information on whistleblower laws, go to www.osha.gov, and click on the link for "Whistleblower Protection."

Whistleblower Publications

Next Steps
Contact a qualified workplace safety attorney to make sure
your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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