OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

Did you know that OSHA has a Whistleblower Protection Program that enforces the protection of workers who report health and safety hazards from retaliation?

Workers have the right to speak up about safety and health concerns on the job. Under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, there are over 20 federal laws that protect workers who report unsafe and hazardous workplace conditions. Retaliation that workers are protected from includes firing, discrimination, demotion and more. Federal whistleblower protection laws apply to workers in various industries, and some are industry specific.

A legal case involving OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program and the federal laws under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act is the U.S. Department of Labor versus United States Steel Corporation case. On Feb. 14, 2014, a utility technician at the Clairton Plant in Clairton, Pa., found and removed a small splinter from his thumb. A couple days later, the worker’s thumb and hand were swollen, and he received medical treatment for an infection. On Feb. 15, a laborer at the Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, Pa., bumped his head on a low beam. Although at the time the worker did not have a known injury, as he did not have any symptoms, the worker later noticed stiffness in his shoulder and sought medical attention. Both of these workers reported their work-related injuries to U.S. Steel Corporation when they became aware of the injury. In response to these claims, U.S. Steel Corporation claimed that the workers violated the company’s “Immediate Reporting Policy” and suspended both workers without pay. The workers filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor sued U.S. Steel Corporation. The U.S. Department of Labor argued that the disciplinary action against the workers violates Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor stated that the company’s “Immediate Reporting Policy” discourages workers from reporting workplace injuries and creates an unnecessary barrier, as many workers may not realize they have been injured until days later. In this lawsuit, the United Steelworkers (USW), in addition to a number of other unions, became involved in the case and played a major role in attaining justice for these workers. The court ordered U.S. Steel Corporation to pay back wages, including interest, to both workers and to overturn all disciplinary action that was previously taken against them.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! Workers have the right to report all unsafe and hazardous workplace conditions without retaliation or reprisal. Furthermore, all workers have the right to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA if they believe their employer or company has wrongfully retaliated against them for reporting dangerous workplace conditions. Whistleblower protections may vary by state. Become familiar with your state’s whistleblower protection laws, regulations and enforcements.

If you have questions about your rights under 11(c) or how to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, reach out to your local union, USW staff representative, or the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department.