The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is part of the federal Department of Labor. Congress has charged OSHA with enforcing 23 different federal whistleblower laws that cover a whole host of topics from reporting concerns about toxic waste to disclosing securities and tax fraud and opposing unsafe conditions relating to air travel and motor carriers. We represent whistleblowers in cases alleging illegal retaliation in virtually all industries.
What To Do If You Experience Retaliation
You should contact an attorney without delay. Many of the laws administered by OSHA have very short filing deadlines, as little as 30 days. The need for an attorney is particularly true with safety and environmental laws. Your attorney will need time to review the evidence that you provide to investigate your claims before filing. Any delay could prevent you from seeking justice.
The whistleblower laws enforced by OSHA generally require that whistleblowers first file a complaint with the regional OSHA office. You can find a list of OSHA offices by state here: https://www.osha.gov/contactus/bystate. From there, OSHA will assign an investigator who will investigate the claims and make a recommendation to the Secretary of Labor regarding your case. The OSHA investigator will follow the procedures laid out in the OSHA Whistleblower Investigations Manual. Here is a copy of the manual, current as of January 28, 2016: (host this on our site: https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-03-007.pdf).
If the Secretary of Labor finds that your employer retaliated against you, the Secretary will issue an order granting relief, which can include reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, exemplary damages, and attorneys’ fees.
The laws enforced by OSHA permit either party to challenge the Secretary’s findings and request a hearing before an administrative law judge at the Department of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges or OALJ. From there, OALJ decisions can be appealed to the Administrative Review Board and later to federal court. Many of the more modern laws enforced by OSHA also permit a whistleblower to remove their case to federal district court for a jury trial.
Several federal laws protect employees who report illegal pollution and other violations of federal environmental laws. These laws include the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7622; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. § 9610; Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), 33 U.S.C. § 1367; Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), 42 U.S.C. § 6971; and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. § 2622. Under these laws, employers may not retaliate against an employee because the employee has filed, instituted, or caused to be filed or instituted various proceedings identified by federal environmental statutes and regulations. The laws also protect employees who have testified or are about to testify in any proceeding relating to the administration or enforcement of federal environmental laws.
Public Transportation Whistleblowers
Many federal laws protect employees in the transportation industry, including truckers, bus drivers, and air carriers. Under the National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSAA), 6 U.S.C. § 1142, no public transportation agency, contractor, or subcontractor may retaliate against an employee because the employee has reported what they reasonably believe to be a violation of any federal law, rule, or regulation relating to public transportation safety or security, or fraud, waste, or abuse of federal grants or other public funds intended to be used for public transportation safety or security. To be protected, the disclosure must be to a supervisor or another person with authority to investigate and stop the violation, or to a regulatory or law enforcement agency, Congress, or the Government Accountability Office. Employees are also protected if they refuse to violate or assist in the violation of any federal law, rule, or regulation relating to public transportation or security, or if they participate in a related proceeding, including providing cooperation to the National Transportation Safety Board or Department of Homeland Security.
The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), 49 U.S.C. § 31105, provides robust protections for employees of commercial motor carriers, including truck drivers and bus drivers. The STAA protects employees if they file a complaint relating to a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety or security regulation, standard, or order. Importantly, the STAA also protects employees when their employer merely perceives that the employee is about to file a complaint.
The STAA also prohibits from retaliating against employees who refuse to operate a vehicle because doing so would violate a regulation, standard, or order of the federal government relating to motor vehicle safety, health, or security, or because the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to themselves or the public. Some common examples include refusing to operate a vehicle with defective equipment or in hazardous conditions. The law also protects employees if they accurately report their hours on duty, even in the face of pressure from their employer to underreport or drive beyond their hours.
Similar to the STAA, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, also known as AIR21, provides protections for airline employees. Under AIR21, no air carrier, contractor, or subcontractor of an air carrier may retaliate against an employee because the employee has reported a violation or alleged violation of any order, regulation, or standard of the FAA, or any other provision of federal law relating to air carrier safety to their employer or the FAA.
Other OSHA Enforced Statutes
OSHA enforces statutes that cover a variety of industries and subject matters. A full list of the 23 statutes enforced by OSHA is below.
- Affordable Care Act (ACA), 29 U.S.C. § 218C
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), 15 U.S.C. § 2651
- Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7622
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. § 9610
- Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA), 12 U.S.C. § 5567
- Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), 15 U.S.C. § 2087
- Energy Reorganization Act (ERA), 42 U.S.C. § 5851
- FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), 21 U.S.C. § 399d
- Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. § 20109
- Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), 33 U.S.C. § 1367
- International Safe Container Act (ISCA), 46 U.S.C. § 80507
- Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), 49 U.S.C. § 30171
- National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA), 6 U.S.C. § 1142
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), Section 11(c), 29 U.S.C. § 660(c)
- Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (PSIA), 49 U.S.C. § 60129
- Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), 42 U.S.C. § 300j-9(i)
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), 18 U.S.C. § 1514A
- Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA), 46 U.S.C. § 2114
- Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), 42 U.S.C. § 6971
- Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), 49 U.S.C. § 31105
- Taxpayer First Act (TFA), 26 U.S.C. § 7623(d)
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. § 2622
- Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21), 49 U.S.C. § 42121