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Safety Issues, OSHA Complaints, Retaliation
Air-carrier safety issues are addressed in my whistleblowers article.
If you believe your workplace is unsafe in some way, the first thing to do might be to call OSHA and talk with a technician about the potential safety problem. You might learn from the technician that OSHA’s requirements are being violated. You do not have to file a formal OSHA complaint in order to have a conversation with a technician. Look in your local phone book for the OSHA office nearest you. OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Labor. Spend some time on the OSHA website and you will see that the Federal regulations are extremely detailed regarding many safety issues. The OSHA website has a directory of all of its offices.
TRAP: Employers do not like it when you call OSHA. OSHA is one of the more aggressive Federal agencies. If OSHA sees a safety problem, they tend to get involved quite fast. They contact the employer and talk about it, or for more serious problems they come to the job site un-announced for a safety inspection. OSHA regularly fines employers for safety problems.
The employer usually has a pretty good idea of who contacted OSHA, even though OSHA might not tell them who the complainer was. The employer knows, usually, because before the employee called OSHA the employee probably already raised the same safety issue with his supervisor and been unsuccessful in getting the problem fixed.
You need to contact a lawyer if you get retaliated against for raising workplace safety issues. But here’s a TRAP: if you get wrongfully terminated or retaliation occurs for making a safety complaint, the court will closely scrutinize whether your complaint was a good faith complaint about a sufficiently serious safety problem. If the court concludes that your complaint was not about a sufficiently serious safety problem, then the court might throw out your case. But you will enjoy the highest degree of protection from retaliation if you actually file an OSHA complaint, rather than simply tell the employer of the safety issue.
OSHA will also take your complaint about getting retaliated against for making OSHA complaints. You should call OSHA to complain about the retaliation immediately after the retaliation occurs. If you wait, OSHA won’t take your complaint about the retaliation. But in my opinion, OSHA does not get as aggressive in resolving retaliation complaints as it does in resolving safety issues. Typically, the employer allows enough time to pass before the retaliation so that OSHA sees a difficult time proving a connection between the complaint and the retaliation, and so OSHA chooses not to help you. Visit OSHA’s web page regarding discrimination against safety-related whistleblowers.
Remedies for retaliation for making safety or OSHA complaints:
If you complain of retaliation to OSHA, OSHA can order that you be rehired with backpay.
If you file a lawsuit for retaliation for complaining of safety issues, there are legal theories which, if the court accepts them, might entitle you to win compensatory and punitive damages, as well as backpay and attorney fees.
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