The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defended a railroad worker who filed a whistleblower complaint against Norfolk Southern Railway Corp. alleging he was fired after reporting an on-the-job injury at the company’s Atlanta, Georgia, facility.
OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern railway to reinstate the whistleblower and pay him more than $150,000 in back wages, $75,000 in punitive damages, and $10,000 in compensatory damages and legal fees. The order came after OSHA regulators investigated the worker’s complaint and determined that the railway violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FSA).
According to investigators, Norfolk Southern issued the employee a letter threatening disciplinary action. The company then subjected the worker to an investigative hearing that ultimately ended with his termination.
“This order underscores the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to protect employees who report workplace injuries,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta, Georgia. “The Federal Railroad Safety Act protects employees who exercise their right to report workplace injuries and OSHA enforces those legal provisions.”
In addition to the monetary penalties, OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern to train managers and employees on worker protections and rights codified in the FRSA.
The railroad industry has a particularly notorious record of retaliating against employees who report injuries suffered on the job, refuse to perform dangerous tasks in violation of safety rules, voice concerns about threats to public safety, and other actions protected by the FRSA.
Every year, OSHA receives hundreds of complaints from railroad workers who turn 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, but the problems have persisted.
“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,” then-Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels said with the passage of the railroad whistleblower protections in 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.”
Workplace retaliation lawyers
Lawyers in our Fraud section handle complaints involving employment law, including retaliation. Retaliation may occur in the workplace when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is permitted by law, but which the employer wants to discourage. For example, an employer may retaliate against an employee who makes harassment or discrimination complaints, who reports fraud or other wrongdoing in the workplace, or who participates in an investigation within the workplace. Some employers also retaliate against employees who report workplace injuries to state or federal authorities. For more information or to discuss a possible claim, contact Larry Golston, Leon Hampton or Lauren Miles in this section.