The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has the job of enforcing laws that protect employees from discrimination by employers for exercising their rights under the OSH Act. In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed by Congress. The OSH Act protects workers safety and health and also their rights to file an OSHA complaint, participate in an inspection or talk to an inspector, seek access to employer exposure and injury records, or bring a safety or health complaint to their employer without fear of retaliation by their employer. Since the OSH Act was passed in 1970, OSHA’s whistleblower protection enforcement has been expanded by Congress with the addition of twenty-one federal laws.
Workers in a wide variety of industries are covered by the whistleblower protection laws.
Employees are protected from any type of adverse action against workers for exercising their rights under the OSH Act including:
• Denying overtime
• Withholding promotion
• Denial of benefits
• Threats and other forms of Intimidation
• Reducing pay
A Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC) was established which advises and makes recommendations to the Secretary of Labor and the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health on OSHA’s administration of whistleblower protections. The WPAC helps with implementation of customer service models, enhancements of the investigative and enforcement processes, and training, and advises on cooperative activities with other federal agencies which share responsibilities in enforcing the whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA.
The timeframes for complaints of discrimination under the whistleblower protection laws vary depending on which laws cover the particular situation. Environmental and nuclear safety laws, transportation industry laws and consumer and investor protection laws each vary in the amount of time allowed for filing complaints of discrimination.
Recently OSHA launched an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) pilot program to assist complainants and employers in resolving their disputes in a voluntary, cooperative manner. The program will offer two methods of ADR: early resolution and mediation. The pilot program will be available in two regions, one headquartered in Chicago and the other in San Francisco. The Chicago Regional Office is responsible for whistleblower cases in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio. The San Francisco Regional Office is responsible for cases in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and various Pacific Islands including the commonwealth of Northern Marian Islands, Guam, and American Samoa.
For more information on the Whistleblower Protection Program visit the website at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.