Some statistics just released by OSHA provide a window into what happens when an employee makes a whistleblower complaint.
In fiscal year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014), OSHA received 3,060 whistleblower complaints. That’s more than any year in the previous nine, and it’s a 3% increase over 2013.
OSHA also designated more of these cases completed in 2014 than in any other year during the same period. Last year, OSHA deemed 3,147 cases completed, a 2% increase over 2013.
What might be more interesting to businesses is exactly what happens to whistleblower cases handled by OSHA. In 2014, determinations were made in 3,271 cases. Of those:
- 51% (1,652) were dismissed
- 22% (710) were withdrawn by the employee
- 13% (441) were settled by the employee and employer
- 9% (305) were categorized as “other settled,” which OSHA defines as a settlement which occurred as a result of referring the case to another authority
- 3% (243) were categorized as “kicked out,” which OSHA defines as an action going before a U.S. district court, and
- 2% (64) were found to have merit by OSHA.
OSHA also released these stats for the period from 2005-2014:
- 58% were dismissed
- 16% were withdrawn by the employee
- 15% were settled
- 7% were “settled other”
- 2% were found to have merit, and
- 1% were “kicked out.”
In 2014, 73% of cases were dismissed or withdrawn. During the 10-year period, 74% were dismissed or withdrawn.
So, in other words, while more employees are filing whistleblower complaints, the percentage of those found to have merit or being otherwise settled has remained about the same. That means a growing number of companies found to be in violation of whistleblower regulations.
OSHA has put more emphasis on its whistleblower program over the last seven years. At the top of OSHA’s homepage, you’ll find “Filing a complaint” right at the top.
The agency has also been giving more publicity to the cases in which it says a company has committed a whistleblower violation (cases with “merit”).
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
The take-home for employers is clear: Make sure employees know they can express their workplace concerns internally rather than taking them to regulators.