In organizations, employees are restricted from reporting workplace complaints. If they raise their voices against violations, organizations retaliate against them. Their freedom of speech is taken away.
In the United States, 55.8% of the claims filed with the U.S. involved employee retaliation.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program ensures that employees can report OSHA violations and safety hazards without any fear of being retaliated or held accountable.
What is OSHA’s Whistleblower Program?
Whistleblower Program enforces more than 20 federal laws to protect employees from retaliation. Employees are encouraged to report violations related to safety concerns, OSHA standards, aviation safety, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, antitrust, and anti-money laundering laws.
Immediate corrective measures can be taken when employees report work-related violations. If employers retaliate against them in doing so, significant harm can occur to both the employees and the organization, such as accidents, injuries, and a scarred reputation.
If an employee thinks he’s been retaliated for reporting any of the violations mentioned above and misconduct, they can file a complaint against the organization with OSHA.
What is Retaliation?
When organizations take adverse actions against employees for complaining about workplace conditions that are protected by whistleblowers laws, it is known as Retaliation. In the workplace, retaliation is of the following types:
- Firing or laying off
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denying benefits
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Intimidation or harassment
- Making threats
- Reassignment to a less desirable position or affecting promotion prospects
- Reducing pay or hours
- More subtle actions, such as isolating, ostracizing, mocking, or falsely accusing the employee of poor performance
- Blacklisting (intentionally interfering with an employee’s ability to obtain future employment)
- Constructive discharge (quitting when the employer makes working conditions intolerable due to the employee’s protected activity)
- Reporting the employee to the police or immigration authorities
Example of Retaliation:
- If an employee refuses to work on a crane because it is not working properly and the employer fires him, it will be retaliation.
- Suppose an employee files a complaint to OSHA about a severe violation that compromises workplace safety during holidays and gets discriminated against by the employer. In that case, it will be a form of retaliation.
- Similarly, in healthcare facilities, if a nurse reports that the patient’s confidentiality is compromised and the hospital demotes her, it will be an act of retaliation against her.
How OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program helps employees?
Protection from negative consequences:
With such a program, employees feel protected and confident. They share violations happening within an organization without fear of being demoted or suspended.
For example, if an employee complains about workers working with electrical equipment in a damp area and the organization fires him, the Whistleblower Protection Program will order the employer to rehire the worker and pay back wages.
Reporting violations promote responsibility among the employees. Whenever they see something wrong or suspicious at the workplace, they act responsibly and take corrective measures against such activities. By enrolling in OSHA Safety Training, workers will be updated about their rights and responsibilities under OSHA standards more comprehensively. They will be ready to take action against their workplace or employer whenever there is a safety violation. Responsible behavior saves the organization and other workers from severe consequences.
Improves safety conditions:
Employees contribute to creating a safer and healthier workplace environment for employees by reporting hazards. Based on employees’ complaints, the Whistleblower Protection Program makes sure that the organization is hazard-free.
What are the Whistleblower Laws Enforced by OSHA?
There are a total of 24 statutes that OSHA enforces, and each of them has a different time frame in which a complaint can be made. Within the set time window, employees must file their complaints so they can be heard.
- Anti-Money Laundering Act (90 days)
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (90 days)
- Clean Air Act (30 days)
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (30 days)
- Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (180 days)
- Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (180 days)
- Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act (180 days)
- Energy Reorganization Act (180 days)
- Federal Railroad Safety Act (180 days)
- Federal Water Pollution Control Act (30 days) International Safe Container Act (60 days)
- Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (motor vehicle safety) (180 days)
- National Transit Systems Security Act (180 days)
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)(30 days)
- Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (180 days)
- Safe Drinking Water Act (30 days)
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act (180 days)
- Seaman’s Protection Act (180 days)
- Section 402 of the FDA Food Safety Modernisation Act (180 days)
- Section 1558 of the Affordable Care Act (180 days)
- Solid Waste Disposal Act (30 days)
- Surface Transportation Assistance Act (180 days)
- Taxpayer First Act (180 days)
- Toxic Substances Control Act (30 days)
- Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (90 days)
How to file a complaint?
If you believe that your rights as an employee have been violated because you followed OSHA standards and reported violations, you can file a complaint with OSHA. Within the set timeframe, you must submit your complaints so they can be reviewed by OSHA. You can file the complaint online or by visiting your nearest OSHA office. In an emergency, you can register your complaint by contacting OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Once they are reviewed, OSHA commences its Investigations.
After the complaints have been received, OSHA investigators find evidence that supports the complaint made by the worker. The process includes conducting interviews with the employee and other witnesses to determine whether the claim was true or not. The top priority of OSHA is to take the employee and employer toward reconciliation. However, if it is a serious violation, the repercussions will be severe for the employer.
The Investigation’s Findings:
OSHA handles whistleblower complaints in various ways depending on the particular law enforcement. The Secretary of Labor can take the matters to federal district courts if OSHA determines that an employee was retaliated against for reporting violations against the OSH Act, Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, or the International Safe Container Act.
If the complaint is supported with evidence, the employer has to reinstate the employee, pay lost wages, and provide other relief. But if OSHA determines there was no retaliation, the complaint will be dismissed.
Retaliation culture fosters stress and anxiety in workers. OSHA strives for a prosperous and sustainable working environment by protecting whistleblowers.
It is essential that the employees working in an organization feel safe. When employees face negative consequences for reporting violations, they develop a fear. Their silence causes significant damage to other workers and the organization.
Therefore, organizations should adopt a problem-solving approach by creating a safe environment for every worker. Adherence to OSHA standards will play a significant role in achieving this objective.