Whistleblowers Remain Vulnerable: Retaliation Claims are Tough to Prove
The Center for Effective Government (CEG), has released a new report that should send a chill through the spines of almost all US workers. According to their analysis, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) struggles to inspect just one percent of the nation’s workplaces in any given year. This means individual workers bear most of the burden to report safety violations and abuses. Unfortunately, weak protection laws leave many workers with a dilemma; report a workplace hazard or keep their job. This understandably leaves workers fearful of reporting potentially dangerous or deadly workplace hazards, which means people get hurt.
Often, when workers report jobsite health and safety hazards, employers retaliate, by reducing their hours or firing them outright. Though this is technically illegal, protections in the Occupational Safety and Health Act are archaic, and are not in tune with the modern world. As written, workers only have 30 days to file a claim for retaliation under the OSH Act concerning retaliatory measures. Because many workers are unfamiliar with the law or uncertain how to file a claim, they may miss the narrow window.
Another problem comes with OSHA budget cuts. While the law says the agency will investigate all retaliation claims within 90 days of filing, the study found that, because of limited funding, investigations often took an average of 150 days to complete. This is because budget cuts have left OSHA with just 96 whistleblower retaliation investigators to examine the more than 1,500 complaints they receive every year.
In addition, any worker who files a complaint must be able to show that the report of the hazard was a “motivating factor” in the retaliatory action. That is a very high standard of proof. The CEG report notes, “Between 2005 and 2012, OSHA received 11,153 complaints of retaliation. While 10,380 were reviewed, only 2,542 were found to ‘have merit.’” In other words, OSHA found that fewer than 25 percent of workers filing a retaliation complaint could prove said retaliation was specifically for their reporting of safety violations
It is clear that OSHA needs more funding and should be providing greater oversight, and this situation needs to be fixed. But the current lack of oversight doesn’t let employers off the hook for violating workplace safety standards. If you or a loved one have been injured or killed on the job due to a hazard in the workplace, please contact the Texas Worksite Injury Lawyers at Hill Law Firm right away, so that we can conduct an investigation and protect your rights under the law. Consultations are always free.