Whistleblower complaints and fraud claims are on the rise across industry sectors and within differing subject matter areas. While we traditionally think about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in connection with workplace safety, OSHA also is the one stop shop for whistleblower programs. Since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, Congress has expanded OSHA’s whistleblower authority to protection workers from retaliation under twenty-two federal laws. OSHA’s enforcement of whistleblower laws expands the Agency’s authority beyond the traditional workplace health and safety arena to protected activity relating to, for example, cargo containers, airlines, consumer products, environmental concerns, food safety, motor vehicle safety, maritime, and railroads, among many other areas.
In 2017, workers in the trucking and railroad industries filed the most whistleblower complaints prompting OSHA to schedule a public meeting on June 12, 2018 seeking input on whistleblower practices and experiences for industry stakeholders. Written comments or other materials may be submitted to OSHA on or before June 5. See 83 Fed. Reg. 19838 (May 4, 2018).
OSHA protects workers who complain to their employer, OSHA or other government agencies about unsafe or unhealthful working conditions. It also oversees a number of laws protecting employees from retaliation because they report violations of environmental laws related to drinking water and water pollution, toxic substances, solid waste disposal, air quality and air pollution, asbestos in schools and hazardous waste disposal sites.
For business, OSHA maintains significant legal and regulatory resources online related to whistleblower laws, time frames for filing complaints, and other helpful resources about the whistleblower process both for the employee but also for the employer.
When OSHA next knocks on your door, the Agency may be conducting a workplace health and safety inspection or it may be investigating a whistleblower complaint under one of twenty-two federal laws enforced by OSHA.