OSHA Publicizes Guidelines for Employers to Avoid Retaliation Against Whistleblowers

Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration offered a set of recommendations for employers to create retaliation-free workplaces. The guidance is directed at employers with employees covered by the 22 whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA.

The publication reinforces the broad scope of 22 federal statutes offering anti-retaliation protections concerning hazards or 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.

The guidelines focus on preventing retaliation as a step that is good for both workers and business. Although the publication of the guidelines will do little to immediately assist our clients, we are re-publicizing them in the hope that one day whistleblowers will not have to worry about retaliation.

The steps identified include:

  1. Senior Management demonstrating leadership and commitment on this issue.
  1. An organizational system allowing employees’ to raise safety and compliance concerns.
  1. A system for receiving and responding to reports of retaliation.
  1. Anti-retaliation training for employees and managers.
  1. Rigorous program oversight to ensure the system is effective and working as intended.

The document also makes clear that OSHA is available to employees who believe their employer has retaliated against them for whistleblowing. Some of the statute of limitations are very short – 30 days – so be aware of this fact as you are considering whether to seek compensation for retaliation.

The OSHA guidance is well-timed.  The SEC has now pursued around a half-dozen enforcement actions against companies that have either retaliated against whistleblowers or entered into contracts that discouraged whistleblowing.  Under the terms of the SEC whistleblower program, those measures are a violation of the regulations developed following the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act.

For a consultation with a McEldrew Young whistleblower attorney about a retaliation lawsuit, please call 1-800-590-4116.