Metro employees already have whistleblower protections

One of the problems of our current patchwork approach to whistleblower protection is that much of the public is unaware of the protections that do exist in the law today. Wheelchair on metro railA case in point would be yesterday’s story in the Washington Examiner. In a story called, "Metro strengthening protections for ‘whistleblowers,‘" writer Markham Heid reports on an action by the Board of Directors of our local transit system. "The measures include the implementation of federal laws that provide protection for whistleblowers . . .," the article says. I would say that there is nothing the Metro board needs to do to "implement" the federal protection for whistleblowers.  It already exists. I wrote here, here and here before about the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. § 20109, and the National Transit System Security Act (NTSSA). Both are part of Public Law 110-53, the 9/11 Commission Act passed in 2007. See § 1413 (NTSSA) and § 1521 (FRSA). The key points for current Metro employees is that federal law now protects them when they raise safety concerns to anyone — their supervisors, federal overseers, their members of Congress, or the media. If they experience retaliation, they have 180 days to file a written complaint with OSHA. They will have access to the same procedures that have protected environmental and nuclear whistleblowers for 40 years. Metro employees are welcome to come here to the National Whistleblowers Center if they want legal advice about raising safety issues, or raising claims of retaliation. Heid’s article reports that the Metro board is establishing its own Whistleblower Hearing Panel. Myself, I would rather see whistleblowers pursue the Department of Labor process, starting with the OSHA complaint, where they can own a cause of action and receive a due process hearing that is not controlled by Metro management. Is a management panel really going to award compensatory damages and attorney fees against itself? Management may be lauded for its recognition that whistleblowers are their friends in the cause of safety. Metro and the media can both do a better job of informing employees of the actual remedies that already exist.

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