Posts Tagged ‘FRSA’

OSHA finds Amtrak in violation of Federal Railroad Safety Act

BOSTON – The National Railroad Passenger Corp., better known as Amtrak, retaliated against a supervisory special agent in its inspector general’s office when he raised concerns about railroad safety, fraud and abuse involving an Amtrak contractor and when he supported a fellow agent’s safety concerns during an internal investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found.

In early to mid-2010, the agent was investigating an Amtrak contractor that had been convicted in a New York state court for fraud in examining and testing concrete at building projects in the New York City area. This Amtrak contractor had performed testing on certain Amtrak tunnel projects. Strongly believing it was necessary for safety and security reasons, the agent raised safety concerns regarding work performed by this contractor on Amtrak projects.

Then, in October 2010, the agent gave Amtrak’s Dispute Resolution Office information and provided support for a fellow employee who had received a letter of reprimand after he raised safety concerns in a separate matter. The following month, the agent received his first-ever negative performance review. In March 2011, Amtrak notified him that – as a part of an overall reorganization – his position was being eliminated. In the course of the next few months, the agent applied for other positions, but was told that he lacked the required law enforcement training, despite a 40-year law enforcement career that included equivalent training. In June 2011, Amtrak notified the agent that he would be terminated due to his not being placed in a new position.

The terminated agent later filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. After concluding its investigation, the agency determined that the complainant engaged in protected Federal Railroad Safety Act activities when he raised concerns about safety issues related to work conducted by the Amtrak contractor and when he expressed his support of his fellow agent’s safety complaints. OSHA also found these protected activities contributed as factors in his termination by Amtrak.

“In this case, an employee was terminated for pursuing and reporting safety concerns. The employer’s retaliation is unacceptable and illegal. Federal law gives rail carrier employees the right to raise safety, health and security concerns with their supervisors without fear of retaliation. When retaliation occurs, it can have a chilling effect on employees and create a climate of silence where employees’ fear to speak up masks conditions that could impact their health and well-being, and that of their customers,” said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA’s acting New England regional administrator.

OSHA has issued a notice of findings to Amtrak ordering it to take the following corrective actions:

  • Reinstate the employee to his former or a similar position with all rights, seniority and benefits he would have received had he not been discharged.
  • Pay him a total of $892,551, which is comprised of $723,332 in back wages plus $34,218 in interest; $100,000 in punitive damages; $35,000 in compensatory damages; plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
  • Expunge from Amtrak’s records all references related to his discharge and exercise of his FRSA rights; make no adverse statements concerning his employment at Amtrak; and not retaliate or discriminate against him in any manner.
  • Post a notice to all railroad employees about their FRSA rights.

The employee and Amtrak each have 30 days from receipt of OSHA’s findings to file objections and request a hearing before the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

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, railroad, 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.

Clarifying OSHA's rule on whistleblower retaliation

osha-logo_webEarlier last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule covering railroad whistleblower cases and employer retaliation. The rule serves to clarify whistleblower protections already in place and establishes procedures and time frames for handling employee retaliation complaints covered under the National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA) and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA).

The final rule stipulates and clarifies the following:

  1. Prompt medical treatment violations or interference with medical treatment cases will be handled procedurally the same way as all other whistleblower cases.
  2. A refusal to allow an employee to return to work, which is not based on standards recorded in the railroad’s official policies, not uniformly applied or not medically reasonable, can be offered to demonstrate that the refusal is not a legitimate safety concern, but rather motivated by retaliatory intent.
  3. The time limit to file a whistleblower complaint is 180 days after the railroad’s decision has been made and communicated to the employee. To clarify this is when the employee is aware or should be aware of the decision, not when the employee learns of the retaliatory nature of the action.
  4. A contributing factor for a retaliatory action is that the adverse action must take place within a temporal time of the protected activity, or at the first opportunity available to the retaliating manager. That can be a number of years between the protected activity and the retaliatory actions in situations where the manager did not have the opportunity to retaliate until a later time.
  5. Interest on awarded back pay will be computed by compounding daily IRS interest rates for the underpayment of taxes, which is currently the Federal short-term rate plus three percent.
  6. Front pay is a potential remedy where reinstatement is not possible because of the unacceptable working relationship, the position has been abolished or the employee is medically unable to work because of severe depression caused by the retaliation.
  7. OSHA has the authority to grant injunctive relief such as expunging certain personnel files, not applying a policy to an employee, posting a notice regarding a whistleblower result, training for managers, etc.
  8. Hearsay evidence is admissible.
  9. An employee filing a complaint in district court must give notice to OSHA within seven days after filing the complaint.
  10. An employee may file both a whistleblower and a FELA complaint at the same time. If violations of other laws are involved, employees may also file those complaints at the same time. 

OSHA finds BNSF violated whistleblower protections

osha-logo_webSEATTLE, Wash. – North America’s second-largest freight railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, must reinstate a train conductor and pay the man $536,063 in back pay, damages and attorney’s fees after a federal investigation found the rail operator retaliated against its employee after reporting a knee injury.

BNSF filed disciplinary charges against the conductor after he reported the injury, which occurred in November 2010 while en route from Vancouver to Pasco. The employee filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA in February 2011. Company officials fired him in August 2011 despite knowing that his injury report was protected by law.

U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators determined the railroad violated federal laws protecting whistleblowers. After an investigation, OSHA ordered the reinstatement and financial compensation.

“Disciplining an employee for reporting an injury is illegal,” said Ken Atha, regional administrator for OSHA’s Seattle office. “Those who do so face negative repercussions. Retaliatory actions can discourage other workers from speaking up, which may result in an unsafe work environment.”

In addition to paying punitive and compensatory damages, OSHA ordered BNSF to rehire the employee and expunge his record of all charges and disciplinary action. The company must also conduct training for supervisors and managers on employee whistleblower rights and post a notice to employees of their whistleblower rights.

Both the employee and the railroad have 30 days from receipt of OSHA’s findings to file objections and request a hearing before the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

With 38,000 employees, BNSF operates more than 7,000 locomotives and 32,500 miles of track.

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, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.

Under laws enacted by Congress, 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 for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed employee rights information is available online 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.

UP again violates Federal Railroad Safety Act

More than 200 whistleblower complaints against railroad since 2001

osha-logo_webNORTH PLATTE, Neb. – For the third time since 2011, the Union Pacific Railroad has violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act at its yard in North Platte by disciplining employees who reported workplace injuries and sought medical attention, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found. Since 2001, the company has faced more than 200 whistleblower complaints nationwide.

In the most recent case, OSHA investigators determined that Union Pacific disciplined a 35-year-employee after the locomotive freight engineer reported injuries sustained in a Dec. 22, 2013, collision and received medical attention. The company has been ordered to pay the engineer $350,000 in punitive and compensatory damages and reasonable attorney’s fees, remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record and provide information about whistleblower rights to all its employees. Prior to this incident, the employee had never been disciplined.

“It is disheartening that this employee, a loyal railroad worker for 35 years, faced disciplinary action because he sought needed medical attention for a work-related injury. Union Pacific’s actions and the repeated complaints filed by their employees are indicative of a culture that doesn’t show that same loyalty to their workers or concern for their safety,” said Marcia P. Drumm, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo. “Whistleblower protections play an important role in keeping workplaces safe. It is not only illegal to discipline an employee for reporting an injury and seeking medical attention, it puts everyone at risk.”

Any of the parties in this case can file an appeal with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

Based in Omaha, Union Pacific Corporation is one of America’s leading transportation companies. Its principal operating company, Union Pacific Railroad, is North America’s premier railroad franchise, in 23 states across the western two-thirds of the United States. It has 47,000 employees and operates 8,000 locomotives over 32,000 route miles.

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, railroad, 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 https://www.osha.gov/.

OSHA slams Norfolk Southern again

OSHA logo; OSHAWASHINGTON – Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has been ordered to pay $1,121,099 to three workers following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which found that the company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

Two investigations, conducted by OSHA staff in Chicago and Pittsburgh, found that three employees were wrongfully fired for reporting workplace injuries. In addition to monetary remedies, the company has been ordered to expunge the disciplinary records of the three whistleblowers, post a notice regarding employees’ whistleblower protection rights under the FRSA and train workers on these rights.

Railroad carriers are subject to the FRSA, which protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other protected activities.

“The Labor Department continues to find serious whistleblower violations at Norfolk Southern, and we will be steadfast in our defense of a worker’s right to a safe job – including his or her right to report injuries,” said acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris. “When workers can’t report safety concerns on the job without fear of retaliation, worker safety and health suffer, which costs working families and businesses alike.” 

One investigation involved a crane operator based in Fort Wayne, Ind., who was removed from service after reporting an eye injury requiring the extraction of a sliver of metal and rust ring from his eye. The injury occurred while he was operating a crane in support of a bridge-building operation in Albany, Ind. The employee was taken out of service and formally terminated on Aug. 24, 2010, after an internal investigation determined he had made false statements concerning the injury.

OSHA’s investigation concluded that the worker would not have been terminated if he had not reported the injury. The agency has ordered the railroad to pay him a total of $437,591.70 in damages, which includes $100,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, $175,000 in punitive damages, and $156,518.94 in back wages and benefits. It also includes compensation of $6,072.76 to the crane operator for penalties incurred when he had to cash in savings bonds prior to their maturity date after being terminated. In addition to damages, the company has been ordered to pay reasonable attorney fees. Further, OSHA has ordered the railroad to reinstate the worker to the proper seniority level, with vacation and sick days that he would otherwise have earned.

OSHA’s second investigation involved a thermite welder and a welder’s helper based in western Pennsylvania. Both employees had worked at the railroad for more than 36 years without incident when they reported injuries sustained as a result of an accident caused by another vehicle that ran a red light and hit a second vehicle, which in turn collided with the company truck in which they were riding.

The employees initially reported minor shoulder area pain plus some stiffness and soreness. Later, when questioned by management, they initially declined medical treatment, but as the pain increased, sought and received treatment at a local hospital. They were then taken out of service pending an investigative hearing and formally terminated. Management concluded that the employees’ reports about their condition were false and conflicting and constituted misconduct.

OSHA’s investigation found that the employees were terminated for reporting injuries to management. The agency has ordered the railroad to pay them $683,508 in damages, including $300,000 in punitive damages; $233,508 in lost wages, benefits and out-of-pocket costs; and $150,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. Interest on back pay due will accrue daily until the employees are paid. In addition to damages, the company has been ordered to pay reasonable attorney fees.

These actions follow several other orders issued by OSHA against Norfolk Southern Railway Co. in the past two years. OSHA’s investigations have found that the company continues to retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries, and these actions have effectively created a chilling effect in the railroad industry.

“The Labor Department’s responsibility is to protect all employees, including those in the railroad industry, from retaliation for exercising these basic worker rights,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. Railroad workers must be able to report work-related injuries without fear of retaliation.”

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is a major transporter/hauler of coal and other commodities, serving every major container port in the eastern United States with connections to western carriers. Its headquarters are in Norfolk, Va., and it employs more than 30,000 union workers worldwide.

Any party to these cases can file an appeal with the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receipt of the findings.

On July 16, 2012, OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration signed a memorandum of agreement to facilitate coordination and cooperation for enforcing the FRSA’s whistleblower provisions. Between August 2007, when OSHA was assigned responsibility for whistleblower complaints under the FRSA, and September 2012, OSHA received more than 1,200 FRSA whistleblower complaints. The number of whistleblower complaints that OSHA currently receives under the FRSA surpasses the number it receives under any of the other 21 whistleblower protection statutes it enforces except for Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. More than 60 percent of the FRSA complaints filed with OSHA involve an allegation that a railroad worker has been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.

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.