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Whistleblower Protection: Protection from Retaliation for Reporting Safety Hazards
Whistleblower Protection: Protection from Retaliation for Using Your Rights
*Note: You can download a PDF of all of this information below.
If you want to do something to address hazards on the job, it is essential that you know your rights and what you may need to do to protect yourself in case of retaliation.
When the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) law was passed, it was recognized that there would never be enough inspectors to enforce the law in all of the workplaces in America on a regular basis. The law needed to give workers an active role at every jobsite to use their voices and take action. It also it needed to include a provision ensuring that people could do this without fear of retaliation. Without effective protection from retaliation, all of the other health and safety rights we have are meaningless.
Under the OSH Act, it is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who demands a safe and healthful workplace. Under section 11(c) of the OSH Act and other federal laws, you have the right to raise safety-related questions and complaints on the job. You can discuss safety with other workers, ask your employer for information about hazards, and complain about hazards to your employer, OSHA, or another government agency. Click here for a list of rights you have related to safety and health on the job. State-run OSHA programs must have similar protections.
But the Retaliation Law Doesn’t Work Very Well.
Unfortunately, employers sometimes do discriminate against workers for challenging unsafe working conditions. Employers are more likely to take advantage of the more vulnerable, low-wage, immigrant workers who often lack union protections.
The unit in OSHA that investigates retaliation claims has many problems, including lack of enough staff to investigate complaints quickly, as well as sloppy or incomplete investigations. They need to put the time in and work closely with you and your witnesses to put together a complete case. Employers know that there is only a small chance of being punished for breaking the law protecting health and safety whistleblowers. And even when employers are caught, the penalty is usually light. So, even though your rights to a safe and healthful workplace are protected by law, your employer may try to retaliate against you for exercising them. The more involved you and your co-workers are in documenting both hazards and employer actions, the better your odds that these rights will work for you.
You can discourage illegal retaliation* and defend against it, if necessary, by familiarizing yourself with your rights and specific ways to protect yourself.
* Note that there is also a new OSHA policy to target certain employer practices that have the effect of discouraging reporting of injuries, illnesses, or hazards. Collective action to ensure this policy is followed at your jobsite can help prevent retaliation. Click here to see a factsheet with more information.