The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has ordered BNSF Railway Co. to reinstate and provide back pay to a whistleblower who was fired, according to a March 10 press release.
The press release states that the Fort Worth-based company “accused the employee of violating a doctor’s restrictions against physical activity following a work-related injury.” The employee provided documentation showing his doctor’s permission to engage in physical activity, but “the company ignored the documents and fired him,” according to the press release.
The DOL “found that BNSF violated federal law and ordered the railway to reinstate the worker, and pay back wages, attorney’s fees and compensatory damages.” In particular, the DOL ruled that BNSF violated the worker’s rights under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which was amended in 2007 to provide whistleblower protections to employees of railroad carriers. The press release states that DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “also assessed $150,000 punitive damages.” BNSF and the employee “may file objections or request a hearing, within 30 days of receipt of OSHA’s order, before the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.”
“Federal law ensures that employees who report work-related injuries and follow the instructions of their treating physicians are protected from their employer’s adverse actions,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric Harbin in Dallas. “The department’s order underscores its commitment to enforcing whistleblower rights that ultimately protect workers and the public.”
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program “enforces the whistleblower provisions of 25 whistleblower statutes protecting employees from retaliation” when they report violations in the workplace. On February 19, the DOL announced that OSHA would begin overseeing whistleblower complaints under two new statutes, the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Act.