OSHA Says More Protection Needed for Workers who Speak Out Against Unsafe Workplaces

OSHA Says More Protection Needed for Workers who Speak Out Against Unsafe Workplaces

by / Friday, 05 June 2015 / Published in Workplace Woes
Man with hardhat pointing to sign saying

All workers have a right to perform the duties of their jobs in a safe environment. Nobody should ever have to go to work and be afraid of being seriously injured or killed on the job. Even in industries that are typically seen as being very risky, such as construction or maritime, there’s no excuse for workplaces to be excessively dangerous.

To help protect workers, the OSH Act was passed in 1970 and created new standards for workplace safety. The OSH Act protects workers by giving them the right to anonymously request workplace inspections from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) without fear of retribution. Section 11(C) of the OSH Act specifically bans employers from taking retaliatory actions against workers who use their right to speak out against unsafe workplaces.

If a worker feels they are being retaliated against by their employer, they can file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the retaliatory action. OSHA will then investigate the complaint and, if found to be valid, the employer can be fined.

But despite the protections offered by the OSH Act, OSHA says retaliatory actions against whistleblowers are still far too common. In response, OSHA will be publishing new guidelines within the next six months that they believe will help create a culture that will make workers feel safe to speak up, while still protecting employers from unfounded retaliation claims. The new guidelines were created by consulting with an advisory group consisting of union representatives, government officials, and corporate attorneys.

One thing the new guidelines will recommend is more thorough training for managers on how to handle whistleblowers. It’s come to the attention of OSHA that in many situations, managers simply don’t recognize when a complaint is valid under whistleblower standards and dismiss it, causing the worker who made the complaint to get frustrated and think of any negative thing that happens to them at work as retaliatory. Under the new guidelines, managers would be trained to handle complaints in a prompt, transparent manner that involves responding to the worker who made the complaint.

Managers would also become better educated about what can be considered a retaliatory action. Many common retaliatory actions are quite obvious, such as suddenly being fired, demoted, laid off, transferred, being moved to a different shift, or having hours reduced. But other retaliatory actions can be more subtle such as being excluded from important meetings, being made fun of for speaking out, or using peer pressure to make a person feel uncomfortable with making a complaint.