The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered Omaha, Nebraska-based Union Pacific Railroad Co. to immediately reinstate an employee in Idaho who was fired after reporting a work-related injury and to pay the employee more than $300,000 in back wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees.
The employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, alleging suspension without pay and then termination after notifying the company of an on-the-job injury. OSHA’s investigation found the disciplinary charges and termination did not stem from the complainant breaking a work rule but merely on reporting an injury to the railroad.
The employee’s suspension and termination for reporting an injury is a violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s whistleblower protection provisions. Union Pacific Railroad Co. was found to have similarly violated the FRSA in four other cases elsewhere in the U.S. since 2009.
“This case sends a clear message that OSHA will not tolerate retaliation against workers for reporting a work-related injury. An unreported injury is an uninvestigated injury. Nothing is learned that can help prevent the next injury,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “The safety of all workers is endangered when employers intimidate injured workers so that they do not report injuries.”
In addition to reinstatement and monetary compensation, OSHA has ordered the railroad to refrain from retaliating against the employee for exercising rights guaranteed under the FRSA.
Union Pacific is not the only railroad company OSHA has found in clear violation of whistleblower laws. In October, we reported that an employee of Norfolk Southern Railway Company was abruptly terminated after reporting his injuries to management, which accused him of falsifying his injuries. The employee complained to the Labor Department, prompting OSHA to investigate Norfolk Southern for evidence to substantiate the employee’s account. However, regulators not only wrongfully fired its injured employee, but successfully and routinely intimidated other employees from reporting on-the-job injuries.
In that case, OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern Railway to pay the terminated employee compensatory damages for pain and suffering, reasonable attorney’s fees, and $75,000 in punitive damages for what it called the “company’s reckless disregard of the individual’s rights under FRSA.” OSHA also hit the company with $122,199 for its labor-law violations.