OSHA orders BNSF to pay more than US$526,000 in back wages, other damages to two workers after concluding company violated whistleblower provisions of Federal Railroad Safety Act by terminating the workers for reporting workplace injury
May 20, 2014
– Employer violated anti-retaliation protection provided to workers who report injuries
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has been ordered to pay more than $526,000 in back wages and other damages to two workers following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA found that the company, based in Fort Worth, Texas, was in violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act* for terminating the employees in 2010 and 2011 for reporting a workplace injury that occurred at the company's Havre, Mont., terminal.
"An employer cannot retaliate against employees who report an injury," said Gregory Baxter, OSHA's regional administrator in Denver. "OSHA recognizes that employers can legitimately have, and apply, policies to require prompt injury reporting; however, that is not what happened here. When employers mask their retaliatory intent through application of a policy or rule, they violate the law."
The former employees submitted complaints to OSHA alleging violations of the anti-retaliation provisions of the FRSA. Because of these complaints, OSHA conducted an investigation and determined that the reporting of the work-related injury was a factor in each former employee's termination, which is a direct violation of the FRSA. Burlington Northern has been ordered to pay back wages with interest, compensatory damages and attorney's fees, while reinstating and expunging the two employees' work records.
The reporting of an injury, regardless of an employer's policy or deadline, is a protected activity under well-established law. The railway carrier failed to demonstrate that it would have taken the same unfavorable personnel action in the absence of the behavior protected by the FRSA.
Burlington Northern or the complainant may file objections or request a hearing before the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receipt of OSHA's order. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes, protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.