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Enforcing OSHA’s Whistleblower Provision

A federal judge awarded an employee $100,000 in punitive damages from the owner of an oil change facility in Idaho. The employee was fired after reporting safety violations he noticed in the work place. 

In 2012, the employee contacted OSHA with a safety complaint, and the company was consequently cited for safety and health violations. After receiving notice from OSHA, the employer promptly fired the employee he suspected of filing the complaint. The firing of the employee was a clear act of intentional retaliation. The court further ordered the owner to pay $1000 in damages and interest to compensate for the employee’s lost wages. Lastly, the owner has to post the court order at the business and give his employees details on how to contact OSHA officials if they observe future violations.

You should be encouraged to report any concerns you have to your managers, supervisors, or company owner first. In many cases, the company might not be aware the violations are occurring, and alerting them helps foster an environment of trust. It would then be their duty to correct the issue and ensure future infractions are avoided. Internal discussion and conversation create a more positive work environment for everyone involved. However, if corrections are not made, or the complaint is ignored, then contacting a safety official might be your only choice.  Never let a violation go unnoticed or reported.

Whistleblowing helps maintain company integrity and compliance, potentially protecting fellow employees from harm or even death. Ken Atha, the regional administrator for OSHA in Seattle, reminded employees at all businesses, both large and small, that they can report violations to OSHA and expect full protection by the administration.

Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs. You can find information on employee whistleblower rights here.


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