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OSHA outlines how employers can protect whistleblowers from workplace retaliation

West Virginia employment lawyer

Disgruntled or not, an employee has a right under federal whistleblower laws to report workplace health and safety issues without retaliation.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has outlined steps to help employers deal with these issues, according to The National Law Review.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthy workplaces for their employees, according to OSHA.

OSHA recommends best ways to prevent whistleblower retaliation in the agency’s Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Programs:

  • These steps are intended to help employers receive and respond to employee reports of noncompliance with safety and health or other laws.
  • They are also aimed at preventing and addressing retaliation against employees who voice concerns.
  • The steps in which OSHA recommends best ways to prevent whistleblower retaliation cover not only regular employees.
  • The steps extend to temporary employees, leased workers and contractors.

OSHA suggests training employees about their right to report issues without delay to OSHA or an appropriate agency.

Even if the agency is aware that the report was filed by a disgruntled current or former employee, OSHA must still follow up on a complaint without regard to the aims of the complaining employee.

Employees can report violations to employers or go directly to OSHA.

What steps can I take?

The steps OSHA recommend consist of:

  • Managers who lead by example, encourage employees to report concerns and respect confidentiality
  • A clearly communicated system for resolving employees’ reported concerns
  • A system for receiving and responding to reports of retaliation
  • Anti-retaliation training for employees and managers
  • Program oversight, which may include monitoring or audits that identify program strengths and weaknesses.

Suggestions to accomplish this include:

  • Employers providing multiple confidential or anonymous channels for complaints
  • Follow up interviews with complaining employees
  • Anonymous surveys of employees to assess a company’s program

OSHA enforces 22 whistleblower laws. The laws are intended to protect employees who report violations pertaining to securities laws, trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, workplace safety and health regulations, and consumer product safety laws.

In OSHA’s eyes, retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee after the employee engaged in a protected activity. This action can be taken by a manager, supervisor, or administrator.

Protected activities in these cases include raising a concern about a workplace condition that could have a negative effect on the safety, health, or well-being of the reporting employee, other workers or the public.

How can I protect myself from retaliation?

As OSHA recommends best ways to prevent whistleblower retaliation, examples of retaliation include:

  • Firing or laying off
  • Demoting
  • Denying overtime
  • Denying promotion
  • Disciplining
  • Denying benefits
  • Failing to hire or rehire
  • Intimidation
  • Making threats
  • Blacklisting an employee to other employers
  • Cutting pay or hours
  • More subtle actions, such as isolating, ostracizing, mocking, or falsely accusing the employee of poor performance.

Employees who report a workplace safety problem may feel that they have been the target of retaliation. Because of that, they should not be required to report to the manager who they believe retaliated against them.

OSHA says that retaliation against employees who raise or report concerns or otherwise exercise their rights under these laws is not only illegal but bad for business.

Employers who take a proactive approach in preventing retaliation against whistleblowers create a positive workplace. That can improve employee satisfaction and production.

Contact Klie Law Offices in West Virginia today for help with cases of whistleblower retaliation and for help with other workplace problems.

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