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How does the OSHA protect a whistleblower?

Many employees in California might see various violations in their workplace that warrant being reported, but they are reluctant to do so for fear of being retaliated against. Those who do become whistleblowers are shielded by protection for retaliation laws. When there is a violation for which it is applicable to complain to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employees must be aware of how the determination as to whether retaliation took place is made and what protections are accorded under the OSH Act.

When the OSHA investigates the allegation that there was retaliation, it must be shown that the employee was taking part in a protected activity, that the employer was aware of or suspected that the protected activity was taking place, that the employer took an adverse action against the employee and that the protected act provided the motivation or was a contributing factor in the action that was taken. If there is evidence to support the allegation and the sides are not able to reach a settlement, an order will likely be issued by the OSHA for the employee to be reinstated, receive back pay, have benefits restored and compensated in other ways. The employer has the right to protest. Some laws compel the employee to agree to the order immediately.

Whistleblowers receive certain protections under the law if they lodge a complaint to the employer, the OSHA or another government agency about working conditions that are unsafe or unhealthful. The employee who complains is protected from being transferred, not receiving a raise, being subjected to a reduction in hours, being dismissed or being punished. Those who have been discriminated against or faced punishment must file the complaint with the OSHA within 30 days of the retaliation.

Workers are also allowed a limited amount of leeway to refuse to do a job due to hazardous conditions if — there is a belief that serious injury or death can occur, the worker has tried to have the condition corrected by the employer and it has not been done, the circumstances are of sufficient urgency that there is no time to end the hazard through conventional regulatory channels such as informing the OSHA.

Employees need to understand their rights to make employment claims if they have been retaliated against for reporting wrongdoing or dangers. Speaking to an attorney experienced in helping clients with protecting their employee rights can help with filing a legal claim after an OSHA complaint.

Source: osha.gov, “Your Rights as a Whistleblower,” accessed on April 11, 2016


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