On July 7, 2010, OSHA unveiled www.whistleblowers.gov, a new Web address for workers with concerns about unsafe, prohibited or unlawful practices in the workplace as well as workers who believe they have been retaliated against for exercising rights protected by the OSH Act.According to the OSHA press release, “These rights include filing safety or health complaints with OSHA and seeking an OSHA inspection, participating in an OSHA inspection, participating or testifying in any proceeding related to occupational safety or health, or reporting an injury or illness to their employer.”
In addition to information on the 18 federal whistleblower protection statutes OSHA oversees, the site lists examples of discrimination an employee might face, including:
- Firing or laying off
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denial of benefits
- Failure to hire or rehire
- Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion
- Reducing pay or hours
The site makes it easy for workers to report workplace hazards and to file discrimination complaints as well as outlines the requirements a person filing a complaint must meet:
- Show that he or she engaged in protected activity
- Show the employer knew about that activity
- Show the employer subjected him or her to an adverse employment action
- Show the protected activity contributed to the adverse action
- Report discrimination within 30 days (some deadlines differ depending upon the specific law covering the complaint)
Calling the site “part of OSHA's promise to stand by those workers who have the courage to come forward when they know their employer is cutting corners on safety and health,” OSHA once again demonstrates its commitment to enforcing compliance and sends a warning to employers that they need to pay attention to employee safety concerns.
To that end, OSHA’s new site may provide incentive to employers to address and resolve employees’ concerns before employees engage OSHA directly. Once engaged, OSHA has a series of interviews and reviews that could lead to additional penalties for the employer. Additional information regarding OSHA’s whistleblower investigations can be found in the Whistleblower Investigations Manual.
5 Steps employers can take to dissuade employees from “blowing the whistle” include:
- Have a comprehensive safety plan in place that addresses workplace hazards
- Establish clear procedures and channels of communication for employees to report safety concerns
- Address employee concerns in an expedient and comprehensive manner
- Maintain excellent safety records, including all recordable incidents and, if possible, near misses
- Make sure employees are well trained and have the necessary PPE
In addition to the new whistleblower site, OSHA recently introduced a new training module that emphasizes worker’s rights and is a required two hour component of every 10- and 30-hour OSHA Outreach course.
With OSHA’s push to make it easy for employees to speak up, it’s incumbent upon employers to make sure they’re hearing their employees first.