OSHA Whistleblower Protection Law
If you are aware of a safety violation at the workplace, then you may be entitled to protection under the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Law if you report it.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency within the Department of Labor which seeks to protect the safety and health of workers by enforcing safety standards in the workplace. OSHA is also charged with enforcing whistleblower laws related to workplace safety. When an employee properly blows the whistle on practices that have been banned by OSHA, he or she is generally protected by federal law. If the employer committing the safety violation retaliates against the employee for blowing the whistle, the employee can seek damages for the retaliation.
Retaliation includes virtually any adverse action against an employee, including terminating demoting, laying off, denying benefits, making threats, intimidation, reducing pay, or denying a promotion. Retaliation may also come in less overt forms such as isolating an employee, accusing an employee of substandard performance, or blacklisting an employee in a particular industry. In some cases, an employer may try to make working conditions intolerable, forcing the employee to quit.
Employees have certain rights under the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Law. An employee who has been retaliated against can file a complaint with OSHA. Depending on the industry involved, the time limits or deadlines for filing a complaint varies from 30 days to 180 days from the date of the adverse action. Once OSHA receives a complaint, it will determine if it should investigate further. If OSHA determines that the employer wrongfully retaliated, it will seek to make the employee whole. This may include ordering the employer to reinstate the employee to his or her previous job, or it may mean awarding earnings and benefits that the employee was denied. OSHA also has the ability to award punitive damages in order to punish the employer and to deter future abuses.
In some cases where an employee’s case has not been timely decided by the Department of Labor, an employee may have the option of pursuing a claim in federal court and having a jury decide the amount of damages. Filing a lawsuit in federal court essentially starts the process all over again. This route can often be advantageous to an employee, because a jury may be more likely to sympathize with an employee and award greater damages.
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