OSHA’s own statistics have an alarming message for businesses: While more allegations of whistleblower retaliation are coming in each year, the number of legitimate instances are actually very low.
Sure, there are companies out there that take adverse action against workers exercising their right to a safe workplace. Just last month, an airline had to reinstate a pilot it fired for reporting an emergency landing.
But cases like these that have been found to have “merit” by OSHA are few and far between.
Few cases have merit
The statistics show that only 45 out of 2,878 retaliation cases brought to OSHA in 2012 were found to have “merit.” That only works about be about 1.5% of reported retaliation cases.
Most of the time, retaliation cases wind up:
- dismissed (1,665 times)
- settled (592 times), or
- withdrawn (565 times).
Whistleblower protection laws were originally designed to shield workers who participated in protected activities, such as bringing attention to safety hazards from adverse retaliations by employers.
These retaliations could include demotion, termination, reduction in pay or hours, or other measures against potential whistleblowers.
But it seems from the figures like most of these claims are less about actual offenses than perceived slights.
Avoiding federal complaints to start with
Just one instance of a worker being punished for raising safety concerns is too many. But what about all the companies that are forced to defend themselves against these baseless allegations?
- Keep an open door. The best way to keep workers from going to the feds with complaints is having them come to you. When workers know that their safety concerns or questions will be heard, acknowledged, answered and addressed every time, they’re more likely to be satisfied with the decisions.
- Bring workers in on safety. When workers are invited and encouraged to be active in the safety program at work, they’re going to be happier overall with it. Consider inviting the most skeptical members of your team to participate in safety committees or recruit them for help in looking for potential safety hazards or reporting ones they’ve found.
- Get HR in the loop. When workers have safety complaints, be sure to get HR involved in the conversation. Companies often get tripped up when they take an unrelated adverse action against an employee – such as disciplining for a rules violation – shortly after that employee has filed a complaint. Making sure HR is aware of safety-related issues helps prevent misunderstandings like this.