Federal officials ordered a Massachusetts railroad system to pay an employee $85,000 in damages plus attorney’s fees for violating federal whistleblower laws prohibiting rail companies from retaliating against workers who report injuries on the job.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that North Billerica, Massachusetts-based Springfield Terminal Railway retaliated against an employee who was injured on the job at a company facility in North Andover, Massachusetts. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) contains whistleblower protections that prohibit rail companies from lashing out against workers who report job-related injuries and illnesses to federal safety regulators.

According to OSHA, Springfield Terminal Railway notified the employee of a mandatory hearing one day after he sustained an injury on the job and reported it to labor officials. OSHA said the railroad threatened the worker with possible disciplinary action or termination.

OSHA ordered the rail company to pay the whistleblower $10,000 in compensatory damages, $75,000 in punitive damages, plus all his legal fees.

Additionally, Springfield Terminal Railway “must also train managers and employees on proper reporting of injuries and illness; inform employees of their rights under FRSA and the Occupational Safety and Health Act; and expunge any references to reporting an injury from the employee’s record,” OSHA said.

“This order underscores the Department’s commitment to protect employees who report injuries, or workplace conditions that could jeopardize employees’ health and safety,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton.

Railroad retaliation

The railroad industry is notorious among federal safety regulators for abusing, harassing, demoting, and terminating employees in retaliation for reporting injuries received on the job, refusing to perform dangerous tasks in violation of safety rules, voicing concerns about threats to public safety, and other actions protected by industry-specific whistleblower statutes.

Every year, OSHA receives hundreds of complaints from railroad whistleblowers turning to the agency for help. The alarming number of railroad workers submitting whistleblower complaints prompted OSHA in 2015 to tighten and clarify whistleblower protections afforded by the FRSA and National Transit Systems Security Act.

“Railroad workers have the right to report injuries and to follow their doctor’s treatment plans for injuries sustained in the course of their employment without fearing that they will be retaliated against,” said then-Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels in November 2015. “Railroad and public transit agency workers must never be silenced by the threat of losing their job when their safety or the safety of the public is at stake.”



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