Investigative journalist Myron Levin, writing for FairWarning.org, has found that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dismisses about 80% of its whistleblowers cases. Levin founded FairWarning.org to be an online nonprofit publication covering workplace safety, health, and employer conduct issues. Of the 279 cases brought to OSHA’s whistleblower protection office, Department of Labor attorneys filed a mere 32 lawsuits on behalf of employee whistleblowers. OSHA investigators are sometimes frustrated that despite the outstanding merits of a given case, solicitors will only pursue the “slam dunk” cases that are sure to win.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program is supposed to protect the right of employees to report workplace violations without retaliation. However, in the past 14 years the program has achieved little, as the assurance of whistleblower protection through the program appears to have fallen far short of a guarantee. Workers on the job just have no assurance that they will be protected if they raise a concern about a danger to health or safety.
As the “legal arm” of the Department of Labor, the Office of the Solicitor General has not given whistleblowers a helpful legal hand. The office has fallen short of compliance with the OSHA law and left employee whistleblowers with “grossly inadequate” protections and nowhere to turn. Unlike whistleblowers under environmental, transportation and other federal laws, workplace health and safety whistleblowers have no private right of action under federal law. This defect, and others in the OSHA Act, would be fixed by the Protecting Americas Workers Act (PAWA), H.R. 2067, now pending in a House committee. Meryl Grenadier (NWC Fellow) wrote about the House hearing on PAWA in this blog.
The Whistleblower Protection Program has too few OSHA investigators for the volume of complaints and an austere budget with little room for needed equipment and training. As a result, whistleblowers must wait long periods of time before receiving the results of their complaints, which primarily are rejections.
However, attempts are being made to improve OSHA’s whistleblower program. New Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels recently announced that improving whistleblower protections is now a priority. His office launched a whistleblower protection program website, www.whistleblowers.gov. This website lists the OSHA protections of employees from employer retaliation and discrimination, and outlines the steps employees should take to exercise their rights when reporting health and safety violations in the workplace. OSHA’s whistleblower website simplifies the process of reporting misconduct and filing discrimination complaints. Unfortunately, this site does not tell whistleblowers that complaints about retaliation must be filed in writing within thirty (30) days of the employee’s first notice of each adverse action.
For Myron Levin’s full article please click here.
*Emily Brundage (a NWC intern) contributed to this posting