Employees should not be afraid to report workplace injuries or hazardous conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits employer retaliation against employees who report workplace violations or file work injury claims. OSHA regulations mandate workplace safety for all employees.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program protects employees from retaliation for reporting violations of workplace safety violations. More than 20 different whistleblower statutes exist to enforce safety for employees in specific occupations including food safety, motor vehicle safety, public transportation, commercial airlines, nuclear facilities, railroad, and maritime activities.
Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers handle a high rate of injury claims from workers in high-risk occupations. Certain industries pose very high risks of injury and illness for workers, so OSHA enforces strict safety measures to keep workers safe on the job. Workers who handle combustible materials, toxic chemicals, flammable liquids, radioactive materials, contagious pathogens, and dangerous machinery are in high-risk occupations that have strict OSHA safety guidelines. Employees in these occupations usually recognize their risk of injury, even death.
Workers in other high-risk occupations such as healthcare, emergency medical services, food safety, public transportation, construction, and shipbuilding may not recognize hazardous job conditions and injury risks as quickly. Many workers in high-risk occupations accept safety risks as a normal part of their jobs, so they often become complacent about recognizing or reporting workplace safety violations.
What is Retaliation?
Retaliation occurs when an employer, administrator, manager, or supervisor takes some type of adverse action against an employee for reporting hazardous job conditions. Acts of retaliation may be very obvious or so discreet they are difficult to recognize. Retaliation against an employee often takes the form of the following actions:
- Job termination, layoff, or demotion
- Salary pay cuts or reduced work hours
- Denied promotions and benefits
- Denied overtime
- Harassment, intimidation, and threats
- Disciplinary actions for alleged poor performance
Less obvious actions may include employee isolation from company meetings or social events, ostracizing employees from other workers, creating intolerable working conditions, or accusing employees of false actions. Less obvious retaliation actions are usually intended to make an employee quit his/her job and to protect the instigator from punishment. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employers are responsible for providing safe, healthy workplaces for employees. Employers who do not comply receive OSHA fines and safety violations that may result in the closure of the business.
Under federal law, employees are entitled to a safe workplace that protects against workplace accidents and injuries. Employees who have concerns about hazardous workplace conditions have the right to speak up without fear of retaliation from an employer. Other worker’s rights include:
- Job training in a spoken language
- Safe equipment and machinery for work duties
- Provision of personal safety equipment to prevent injury
- Protection from toxic chemicals and combustible materials
- Review of medical records for work-related injuries and illnesses
- OSHA inspection requests and communication with an inspector
All workers have the right to speak to their employer or file a complaint with OSHA when hazardous working conditions exist. Identifying workplace hazards and filing a complaint if hazardous conditions are not resolved can prevent workplace injuries and fatalities. When hazardous conditions clearly present a risk of physical harm and/or death, a worker may have a legal right to refuse to work until safety hazards are resolved.
If an employee is injured in the workplace, Illinois law states that the employee must notify his/her employer of the injury as soon as possible after the injury occurs, but no later than 45 days. If a worker fails to give proper notice within 45 days, injury claims may be barred.
Filing a Whistleblower Complaint
Any worker who believes his/her employer has retaliated for reporting workplace safety violations has the right to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. In some states, employees may file complaints under certain sections of the OSH Act.
Although a worker can file a whistleblower complaint directly with OSHA, a Chicago workers compensation lawyer can ensure that proper filing procedures are followed. Once a complaint is filed, OSHA will conduct an interview with the worker to determine if an investigation is required. If OSHA conducts an investigation, pertinent information will be obtained from the employer and credible witnesses. If the evidence supports the employee’s claim of retaliation, OSHA will take action that may require the employer to restore the employee’s job, wages, and benefits, as well as granting other appropriate relief.
Depending on which OSHA whistleblower statutes support the claim, time limits for filing may vary from 30 days to 180 days from when the adverse action occurred and when the employee was notified by the employer. A Chicago workers compensation lawyer who knows the statutes can make sure the claim is filed with OSHA in the allotted time frame.