OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the statutes from more than 20 federal laws established to protect employees who report violations of various laws, including workplace safety and health, consumer products, food safety, motor vehicle safety, public transportation agency, railroad, and securities laws, among others. Since the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was passed in 1970, Congress has expanded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) authority to further protect workers from retaliation for reporting on-the-job injuries, workplace safety concerns, and other protected activities.
What is the Whistleblower Protection Program?
Whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA contain whistleblower anti-retaliation provisions that prohibit employers from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee because he or she has filed a complaint or exercised any rights provided to employees. The three main sections of the Whistleblower Protection Program include the following:
- Occupational, Environmental and Nuclear Safety Laws
- Transportation Industry Laws
- Consumer and Investor Protection Laws
The rights afforded employees by these whistleblower protection laws include reporting a job-site injury, illness or fatality, participating in safety and health activities, or reporting a violation of the statutes listed above. According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, Section 11(c) of the OSH Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate or take adverse action against employees who exercise their right to file an OSHA complaint, report a workplace injury, raise a safety or health concern with the employer, or seek access to employer records of on-the-job accidents and occupational illnesses.
Protection from Workplace Retaliation
Protection from workplace retaliation means that an employer is prohibited from taking an “adverse action” against an employee for filing a complaint, which may include the following:
- Firing or laying off
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Making threats
- Denying benefits
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Reducing pay or hours
If your employer has taken one or more of these actions against you, because you filed a complaint or exercised any other right you have as an employee, contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss the possibility of filing a workplace retaliation complaint against your employer.
Qui Tam Lawsuits
A qui tam lawsuit is a type of civil lawsuit whistleblowers may bring under the False Claims Act, a federal law that rewards whistleblowers (known as “relators”) if their cases recover funds on behalf of the government. It also provides job protection for whistleblowers, because of the personal and professional risks they take to expose fraud against the government. In addition to recovering government funds, qui tam lawsuits can also protect the well-being of consumers, whose lives may be endangered by the fraud. Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers who file qui tam lawsuits may be entitled to between 15% and 25% of the amount the government recovers, if the government decides to join the lawsuit. If the government decides against joining the lawsuit, and the whistleblower moves forward with the case anyway, he or she may be entitled to a reward of 25% to 30% of the total amount recovered. Because a whistleblower’s actual reward is calculated based on the value his or her attorney brings to the case, it is extremely important to hire an experienced attorney when pursuing a qui tam lawsuit.
Workplace Retaliation Complaints
You have certain rights as an employee, and if your employer has retaliated against you or punished you for reporting a workplace accident or safety concern, or for exercising any other rights provided to employees under the whistleblower statutes enforced by OSHA, you may be entitled to file a complaint with either the State or Federal OSHA agency. Complaints by employees who have been discharged or discriminated against for exercising their rights under the OSH Act must be filed within 30 days of the alleged incident, while the time limit for complaints involving any other whistleblower statute enforced by OSHA varies, depending on the statute. Whistleblowers who expose fraud against the government may also have grounds to file a qui tam lawsuit on behalf of the government, and receive a share of the recovery as their reward. Contact a knowledgeable employment law attorney today to discuss your legal rights.