Overview: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces the whistleblower provisions in 22 statutes. The OSH Act specifically prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers who report workplace safety and health violations.
If an employee reports a health and safety violation to the employer or to OSHA, the employer may not punish the employee for this. This holds true even if it turns out that there was no violation. Retaliatory behavior by the employer refers to anything that could be considered a punishment to the employee, such as termination, demotion, denying payment or reducing hours, among others.
If an employer has valid reasons to discipline an employee who is also a whistleblower, it needs to be very careful to document the reasons and double check that the discipline is fair and equal. This helps ensure that the employer can prove that the disciplinary action had nothing to do with the whistleblowing.
Trends: The new electronic reporting rules that require employers to electronically report injury and illness data to OSHA beginning in 2017 contain anti-retaliation provisions, effective in 2016, that allow OSHA to issue citations for retaliation even if no employee has filed a complaint.
Author: Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, JD, Legal Editor
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HR guidance on OSHA whistleblowers.