What is OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OHSA”) administers the nation’s whistleblower protection laws. Most workplace whistleblower complaints are filed by employees with OSHA. Employees have the right under federal law to a workplace free of health hazards, unsafe, unsanitary, and dangerous working conditions as well as the right to be free from employer retaliation for reporting these violations. Under OSHA, an employer is prohibited from taking adverse retaliatory action against an employee for engaging in protected activity as provided by OSHA’s whistleblowing laws. Retaliatory adverse employer action varies and can be difficult to identify. Prominent examples include firing or demoting the employee, denying the employee a promotion or overtime, reducing the employee’s pay, undertaking disciplinary procedures against the employee, denying benefits, intimidating, harassing, or threatening the employee, or taking any other adverse action against the employee.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program (“WPP”) is an important component of its whistleblower protection policy. The WPP protects employees who report abuses in the workplace for unsafe, unsanitary, and dangerous working conditions in violation of federal law. Under OSHA, the WPP enforces these protections for employees filing complaints who have suffered retaliatory action as a result of engaging in protected activities, as outlined in more than 20 federal statutes. These statutes protect employees from retaliation after raising workplace concerns about health and safety. In addition to OSHA’s employee safety protection, individuals are also protected against employer retaliation in the following subject areas: environmental protection, aviation safety, food safety, consumer product safety, transportation services, motor vehicle safety, health insurance, fraud prevention, public transportation and railroad safety, and securities and tax law compliance.
The goal of the WPP is to prevent employers from breaking the law and taking advantage of their employees. Employees who feel that their rights under federal law have been violated are permitted to file a complaint under OSHA. The WPP is pivotal for not only providing employees with access to an avenue for reporting violations but also for ensuring that employees are not afraid of reporting such violations. As the novel and unprecedented coronavirus spreads across the nation, it is important now more than ever that employees feel confident that they can report unsanitary and unsafe working conditions to OSHA.
Complaints filed by individual employees with OSHA are investigated by OSHA staff investigators. If a member of the staff believes that an individual’s claim has merit and warrants further investigation, the OSHA staff contacts the individual to initiate a formal investigation. The individual who filed the complaint must answer this request or risk having their case dismissed.
In August 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor launched a redesigned OSHA Whistleblower Protection Program website. The new design and format are more interactive and highlight important data on over 20 federal statutes that OSHA enforces. The new design helps users navigate the website and learn information about OSHA and whistleblowing. The overall new web layout now includes a revamped homepage with a video that explains the industries covered. It also includes data on how employers and employees can explore the website to learn about their rights and responsibilities and contains various information such as filing deadlines, protected activities, and other resources in the relevant industry or statute.