Whistleblowing and OSHA: Know Your Rights

It is easy to let things slide, especially if you love your job. Maybe you have noticed that your employer has failed to take certain safety measures in the last few months, but you do not think anyone will get hurt and so you have ignored it. Maybe you even reported it to your manager and he or she has promised to do better. But, weeks, months, or even years have gone by and you have not noticed an improvement. In fact, you are growing more concerned with the passage of time that your workplace is becoming unsafe and that people are at risk. 

It is at this point that many people may consider “blowing the whistle.” “Blowing the whistle” is a commonly used phrase to refer to a person, often an employee, making a report to the proper authorities regarding a violation of law or ethics. Whistleblowers play an important role in preventing workplace abuses, particularly when it comes to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration law and regulations. 

If you are considering blowing the whistle on your employer to expose an OSHA violation, you should strongly consider talking to an experienced whistleblower attorney first, particularly one who specializes in OSHA law and regulations. A competent attorney will be able to give you legal advice regarding how to file your report and how to take advantage of protections in place for whistleblowers. In the meantime, here is some basic background information about OSHA whistleblowing:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA law) allows employees to report a safety violation if they suspect that an OSHA law provision or other regulation is not being met by their employer. Employees can also request an inspection of their workplace by an OSHA representative.
  • Sometimes employers, when discovering that their employee has reported an OSHA violation or requested an inspection, can react poorly. Unfortunately for employees, this may mean that they lose their jobs, or face workplace retaliation in the form of demotions, harassment, or worse working conditions, just to name a few. 
  • If you believe that your employer has committed retaliatory acts based on you reporting a potential OSHA law or regulation violation, you are entitled to protection under a variety of federal laws, depending on the nature of your report. 
  • To receive protection under one of the applicable federal laws, you must file a complaint against your employer with OSHA by calling or visiting your local OSHA office or by mailing, emailing, or faxing a written complaint. You can find contact information for your local OSHA office online.
  • You must file your OSHA retaliation complaint within a short period of time after the retaliation occurs. The exact amount of time varies with the law that applies to your whistleblowing report. For example, if you reported a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, you have 30 days to file your complaint regarding retaliation. If you filed a report alleging a violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, you have 180 days to file your complaint. A good rule of thumb is to file your complaint as soon as possible to avoid losing your legal rights. 
  • OSHA will investigate your retaliation complaint and may order your employer reinstate your job, or provide money to compensate you for your time missed from work or denial of benefits.

Remember, these are general facts and are in no way an exhaustive description of what you may encounter regarding OSHA reporting and workplace retaliation. To make sure that your initial whistleblower report and any subsequent retaliation complaint under OSHA law meets the required legal standards and provides you the protection you need, consult with a qualified and competent whistleblower attorney, like a whistleblower lawyer in Richlands, Virginia, with experience in OSHA law and regulation.

Thank you to the experts at the Law Offices of Mark T. Hurt for their insight into whistleblower law.