OSHA sides with former pilot who blew the whistle at AirTran Airways

Last week, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered AirTran Airways to reinstate a whistleblower pilot and pay more than $1 million in back pay and compensation. The pilot worked at AirTran Airways which is now a subsidiary of Southwest Airlines Co. OSHA found that AirTran fired the pilot for reporting numerous concerns about mechanical safety.

On August 23, 2007 , the pilot raised concerns regarding a sudden spike in the pilot’s mechanical malfunction reports (PIREPS). AirTran managers immediately removed the pilot from his flight. Managers conducted an internal investigative hearing on September 6, 2007. It lasted for only 17 minutes . A week later, the pilot was terminated. The airline’s reasoning behind this termination was that he failed to provide a satisfactory answer when asked about the spike in reports. However, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program found that the pilot gave reasonable and appropriate answers to the airline’s questions and concluded that the airline’s action was indeed punitive. OSHA declared that the airline violated Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21) which provides protection for airline employees who raise safety concerns. OSHA does not release the names of whistleblowers in its press releases.

Stephen Kohn states in The Whistleblower’s Handbook that the number of whistleblowers are increasing as ordinary people realize the importance of keeping companies and government accountable for the well being of the whole society. It is important that people know that there are laws designed to protect their rights as a whistleblower and agencies like OSHA enforce various whistleblower provisions. OSHA enforces over twenty laws with whistleblower protections for employees raising environmental, transportation safety, corporate misconduct and other violations. The statutes of limitations for these laws vary from 30 days (for environmental and occupational safety and health concerns), to 90 days (for airline employees), or 180 days (for truck drivers, nuclear whistleblowers, and corporate misconduct issues under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)).

Every day, workers must seriously think about the consequences if they do not report dangers they discover on the job. One person’s courageous act can possibly bring changes in policies and save lives.

Intern Kelly Yoon contributed to this blog entry.

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