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September 04, 2019 Safety News

Whistleblower Protection

What is Whistleblower Protection?

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces protections for employees who suffer retaliation for engaging in protected activities under more than 20 federal laws? OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program protects all workers from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws and for engaging in other related protected activities. The investigation of complaints of retaliation against employees is conducted by regional OSHA investigators who are neutral fact finders; they do not work for either the complainant or respondent (employer).  

Protection from Workplace Retaliation

Basically, an employer cannot take an adverse action against employees, such as: firing or laying off, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, or reducing pay or hours, for engaging in activities protected by OSHA’s whistleblower laws. Employers can and must create workplaces in which workers feel comfortable voicing their concerns without fear of retaliation.

What is Retaliation?

Retaliation occurs when an employer (through a manager, supervisor, or administrator) fires an employee or takes any other type of adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity.

An adverse action is an action which would dissuade a reasonable employee from raising a concern about a possible violation or engaging in other related protected activity. Retaliation can have a negative impact on overall employee morale.

Because an adverse action can be subtle, it may not always be easy to spot. Examples of adverse actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Firing or laying off
  • Demoting
  • Denying overtime or promotion
  • Disciplining
  • Denying benefits
  • Failing to hire or rehire
  • Intimidation or harassment
  • Making threats
  • Reassignment to a less desirable position or actions affecting prospects for promotion (such as excluding an employee from training meetings)
  • 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 an employer makes working conditions intolerable due to the employee's protected activity)

How is Whistleblower Protection Related to Workers' Compensation?

OSHA has received reports of employers who have a policy of taking disciplinary action against employees who are injured on the job, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the injury. Reporting an injury is always a protected activity.

Some employers establish programs that unintentionally or intentionally provide employees an incentive to not report injuries. For example, an employer might enter all employees who have not been injured in the previous year in a drawing to win a prize, or a team of employees might be awarded a bonus if no one from the team is injured over some period of time. Such programs might be well-intentioned efforts by employers to encourage their workers to use safe practices. However, there are better ways to encourage safe work practices, such as incentives that promote worker participation in safety-related activities, such as identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents or "near misses".

What can an employer do?

Learn how employers can create workplaces in which workers feel comfortable voicing their concerns without fear of retaliation. To learn more about The Whistleblower Protection Program, visit https://www.whistleblowers.gov/ or contact the Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs at (202) 693-2199.

David Cookson
Written by

David Cookson

LOSS PREVENTION MANAGER

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