Union Pacific Railroad to pay more than $38,000
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Omaha, Neb.-headquartered Union Pacific Railroad Co. to pay an employee $38,561.92 in damages, which includes $25,000 in punitive damages, after retaliating against the employee for reporting a work-related injury.
An investigation by OSHA upheld the employee's allegation that the railroad issued a 10-day unpaid suspension in retaliation for reporting an injury that occurred on July 8, 2011, while he was working as a switchman in the railroad's Topeka, Kan., yard. The worker suffered the loss of two teeth and several facial lacerations when coupled cars came apart as they were being moved in the yard and struck him. The railroad issued the discipline even though the evidence showed that the employee was not at fault, and that employees involved in similar incidents – but who had not been injured – received lesser forms of discipline or were allowed to bypass the formal discipline process entirely.
The railroad carrier also has been ordered to remove references to discipline from the employee's personnel record and to post employee whistleblower rights information throughout its Kansas City Service Unit. The respondent and the complainant both have 30 days from receipt of these findings to file objections and to request a hearing before a Labor Department administrative law judge.
"An employer does not have the right to retaliate against employees who report work-related injuries," said Charles E. Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo. "While OSHA is best known for ensuring the safety and health of employees, it is also a whistleblower protection agency."
OSHA conducted the investigation under the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S. Code 20109, as amended by the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. Railroad carriers are subject to the FRSA, which protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other protected activities.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.
On July 16, OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration signed a memorandum of agreement to facilitate coordination and cooperation for enforcing the FRSA's whistleblower provisions. Between 2007 and 2012 to date, OSHA received more than 900 whistleblower complaints under the FRSA. Almost 63 percent involved an allegation that a worker was retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
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