Safety and OSHA News

Company ordered to pay $536K for retaliating against injured worker

OSHA has ordered North America’s second-largest freight railroad to reinstate an employee and pay him $536,063 for retaliating against him after reporting a knee injury. 

Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC (BNSF) must reimburse the train conductor for back pay, damages and attorney’s fees.

BNSF disciplined the conductor after he reported his injury in November 2010. The employee then filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA in February 2011. BNSF fired him in August 2011.

OSHA says the railroad violated federal laws protecting whistleblowers.

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

OSHA also ordered BNSF to remove all charges and disciplinary action from the employee’s record. The company must also conduct training for supervisors on employee whistleblower rights and post a notice to employees of their whistleblower rights.

The employee and railroad have 30 days from receipt of OSHA’s findings to file objections and request a hearing.

In January 2013, BNSF signed an agreement with OSHA to address alleged violations of the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA. The railroad agreed to change several safety and personnel policies, including:

  • changing its disciplinary policy so injuries no longer determine the length of an employee’s probation for a serious rule violation
  • eliminating a policy that assigned points to employees who suffered on-the-job injuries
  • implementing a training program for managers and HR professionals to educate them about their responsibilities under the FRSA, and
  • making settlement offers in 36 cases to employees who filed whistleblower complaints with OSHA alleging they were affected by the company’s policies.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report safety and other types of workplace violations of federal laws.

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