In 2015, OSHA is increasing it’s enforcement staff to focus on protecting whistleblowers, non-compliant safety incentive plans, repeat and serious violations and underreporting of injuries and illnesses.
Federal Whistleblower complaints filed with OSHA in 2014 jumped to over 3,000, a steady climb for the past ten years. Employers should review their policies to proactively prevent retaliation against an employee for whistleblowing. Fines and penalties for whistleblowing are significant. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or 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.
2015 California Whistleblower Laws SB 496 Labor Code section 1102.5 provides whistleblower protections for employees who have reason to believe that their employer is violating a federal or state statute. SB 496 expands whistleblower protections to include reports alleging a violation of a local rule or regulation. It also protects employees who disclose, or may disclose, information regarding alleged violations “to a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has authority to investigate, discover or correct the violation. Finally, SB 496 prohibits retaliation against an employee because the employer “believes the employee disclosed or may disclose information.
Underreporting – Giving of safety awards for no incidents/accidents over a specific periods of time is viewed by OSHA as contributing to the underreporting of workplace injuries and close calls. To guard against underreporting, we recommend that all supervisor safety awards be based upon two factors:
(1) 50% – Conducting specific safety activities (eg trainings, inspections, incident investigations, etc)
(2) 50% – Meeting benchmarked safety goals
Willful and Serious Violations – Employers are responsible for taking the necessary precautions to protect workers’ health and safety. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. Both willful and serious violations result in sizable fines and penalties.