A whistleblower investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that New Jersey Transit violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act when it retaliated against an employee for reporting a work-related illness.
According to OSHA’s findings, in February 2008, the railroad brought an employee up on charges for missing work after suffering a work-related illness from witnessing a fatal accident involving another worker. The railroad also retaliated against the worker by cutting his pay and then suspending him. These retaliatory acts caused the employee significant financial and personal losses.
The employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, alleging that the railroad had retaliated against him for reporting his work-related illness. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program conducted an investigation under the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA, found merit to the complaint and ordered relief.
“Railroad employees have the legal right to report work-related injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “This case sends a clear message: Railroads that retaliate against employees for exercising their rights will be held accountable.”
As a result of its findings, OSHA has ordered New Jersey Transit to take corrective actions, including expunging disciplinary actions taken against the employee and references to them from various records as well as compensating the worker for back pay, lost benefit payments, interest, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees totaling almost $500,000. In addition, OSHA has ordered the railroad to pay the complainant $75,000 in punitive damages. The railroad must also post and provide its employees with information on their FRSA whistleblower rights.
New Jersey Transit and the complainant have 30 days from receipt of the findings to file an appeal with the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges. Under the FRSA, employees of a railroad carrier and its contractors and subcontractors are protected against retaliation for reporting on-the-job injuries and illnesses, as well as reporting certain safety and security violations and cooperating with investigations by OSHA and other regulatory agencies.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower protection provisions of the FRSA and 16 other whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety, securities, trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, public transportation and consumer product safety laws. Detailed information is available online at this link.
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 assure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.