Whistleblower Protections

*If you are a federal employee who thinks you suffered whistleblower retaliation, you have a completely separate process for handling the situation than private employees do.  Please view our separate page on this subject.

Private Employee Whistleblowers – Who Is Covered?

“OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than twenty whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws.”  Dept. of Labor.

Obviously, OSHA protects a wide variety of whistleblowers under its umbrella, but certainly not all of them.  If you reported a violation of federal law to either your management or to another governing body who then started an investigation, if you merely participated in such a proceeding in virtually any way, or if you reported an accident that was due to violations of federal law, then you may be protected if the federal law you reported a violation of is covered by OSHA’s whistleblower protections.  I encourage you to review OSHA’s list of statutes protected by OSHA to see if your whistleblowing disclosure is covered.

What Protections Do I Have?

Next, you must determine if you have been subjected to retaliation that is covered by OSHA’s protections.  OSHA itself provides the following list:

“Firing or laying off, Blacklisting, Demoting, Denying overtime or promotion, Disciplining, Denial of benefits, Failure to hire or rehire, Intimidation, Making threats, Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion, [or] Reducing pay or hours.” Dept. of Labor.

This list is not intended to cover every possible personnel action, but should give you an idea of what types of actions will be covered.

When Do I Need to File?

Again, OSHA’s list of statutes protected by OSHA includes the deadline for filing a claim.  The time limits change depending on what you blew the whistle on and each time limit should be calculated from the date the retaliatory act occurred, not the date you made your disclosure.  Note that these time limits are much shorter than the EEOC’s for discriminatory retaliation.

How Do I File a Claim?

OSHA’s website provides a form you may use to file a claim, though I recommend hiring an attorney to help you complete the form.  Read why below.

Why Should I Hire an Attorney?

I recommend hiring an attorney to help you complete the whistleblower retaliation complaint form because hiring an attorney at the beginning of the process may actually save you money.  OSHA will review the form you submit and will use that, along with anything else you provide, to try and mediate the dispute.  If this fails, OSHA will determine, “whether your claim has merit.”  This is not just a factual determination, but a legal one – essentially, OSHA is deciding if you win or lose your case on the first try.  Putting your best foot forward by having an attorney help you draft the legal language included in your complaint is your best chance of having OSHA find in your favor on the first swing, which means obtaining damages with as little attorney fees spent as possible.  Otherwise, OSHA will dismiss your claim and give you the chance to appeal the decision to the Office of Administrative Law Judges.  You are now staring at what amounts to almost a full legal case, which will take substantial time and expense on your part.  I recommend that anyone who thinks they have a potential whistleblower retaliation situation contact us before filing their initial complaint to discuss their options, because getting out in front of the retaliation is almost invariably the best course of action.