OSHA Creates New Early Resolution Process for Resolving Whistleblower Complaints

Author: Ashley Shaw, XpertHR Legal Editor

September 1, 2015

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new policies on the process for resolving whistleblower complaints. The new policies are intended to create an early resolution process as part of a regional alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program.

From October 2012 to September 2013, OSHA piloted this new process in two of its ten regions. At the end of this pilot, it determined that having such a program made reaching an early, voluntary resolution to whistleblower complaints more likely.

Because of the success of the pilot, OSHA has decided to implement the program across its regions. Complainants and respondents will be able to voluntarily enter into an ADR program to resolve the whistleblower complaint in a more cost-effective manner.

The early resolution process allows the parties to come to a mutual agreement outside of litigation in the presence of a neutral OSHA representative. The process can commence before an investigation begins or anytime while the investigation is proceeding.

Notably, the early resolution process is confidential. Information presented in this voluntary process to the neutral OSHA representative will not be used outside of the process and the representative will not provide the information to OSHA's investigative staff or to anybody who is not one of the parties to the resolution.

The early resolution process will begin only if both parties engage voluntarily. If OSHA decides that it is not in the interest of both parties to participate (e.g., if there is the possibility that one party is not acting in good faith), it has the option to decline to accept the request. Similarly, if during the process the parties reach an impasse, the early resolution will end.

OSHA enforces 22 different whistleblower statutes. Therefore, this new process could affect a number of workplace retaliation claims. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels confirms that "OSHA receives several thousand whistleblower complaints for investigation each year."