Whistleblower protections against retaliation can be an important aspect offering some comfort to individuals debating the merits of internal or external reporting. It was not until 2012 that Congress authorized compensation through the legal system for an auto whistleblower that is terminated or otherwise discriminated against as a result of whistleblowing. The law that offered protections to employees in this industry is commonly referred to as MAP-21.
Call 1-800-590-4116 for a free, confidential legal consultation if you have been terminated or otherwise discriminated by your employer for reporting motor vehicle safety violations.
The History of the Auto Whistleblower Protections
What is MAP-21?
In July 2012, President Obama signed into law a bill that reauthorized transportation spending for two years called the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The law went into effect on October 1, 2012 and provided over $105 billion in funding for surface transportation programs for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014. There were many important initiatives in the bill – too many to list here. It included $82 billion in federal funding for road, bridge, bicycling and walking improvements. It doubled funding for the Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Improvement Program. It contained provisions to help the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reduce injuries and crashes involving large trucks and buses. And, importantly for auto whistleblowers, it prohibited protections against retaliation.
MAP-21 as precursor to the FAST Act
The funding for the transportation system authorized in Map-21 was subsequently extended five times by acts of Congress with the last extension running through December 4, 2015. It was on December 4th that Congress passed and President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which provides for, among other things, the long-term funding of surface transportation projects. It also included the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act, which authorized rewards for whistleblowers. The auto whistleblower law did not provide its own mechanism for retaliation protections (such as was created by Dodd-Frank). Instead, it is silent on the issue and leaves auto industry employees the ability to seek a remedy under the provisions of MAP-21.
Who is protected?
The law applies to employees of motor vehicle manufacturers, part suppliers and dealerships. Employers are prohibited from engaging in retaliation, which can take many forms including but not limited to firing, demoting, reducing pay or hours, denying promotion or overtime, blacklisting, intimidating or threatening, and reassigning.
In order to be protected by the law, the employee must provide information relating to a motor vehicle defect or violation of Chapter 301 of Title 49 (the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966) either to his or her employer (internal reporting) or the U.S. Department of Transportation. The law also protects employees reasonably refusing to act in violation of Chapter 301 or assisting with a proceeding concerning a motor vehicle defect or other alleged violation of Chapter 301.
Statute of Limitations – You Must File Within 180 Days!
An employee that believes he or she has been retaliated against must file a complaint with OSHA within 180 days of the alleged retaliation. There are many ways to file, including electronic submission, and no particular form is required. You can also submit written complaints by fax, email, U.S. mail, other commercial carriers, in-person or even hand delivery during business hours.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the Department of Labor. It was created by Congress in 1970. OSHA is charged with setting and enforcing standards to assure workers of safe and healthy working conditions. As part of its role protecting workers, it accepts and investigates allegations of retaliation under nearly two dozen laws.
What Happens After Filing?
When OSHA receives a complaint, it determines whether it meets certain basic criteria in order to warrant an investigation (such as timely filing). If the investigation results in evidence supporting a retaliation complaint, OSHA can issue an order requiring re-employment, back pay, and other relief. If the facets do not support the case, OSHA will dismiss it.
There is a preliminary internal review process within the Department of Labor if the employer and/or employee is unhappy with the OSHA decision. The parties may request a full hearing before a DOL administrative law judge. The ALJ decision may be appealed to the Labor Department’s Administrative Review Board. Within 60 days of the the final order of the Secretary, an individual may also appeal to the Court of Appeals for appellate review.
Litigation Rights Following Inaction
An individual is entitled to bring a civil action in federal court if a final decision has not been issued within 210 days of the filing of the complaint with OSHA. Either the individual or the employer can request a trial by jury.