CHICAGO, ILL–Two railroad companies must pay three workers a total of nearly $651,000 in back wages and damages after terminating them in retaliation for simply reporting workplace injuries and safety concerns, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported.
According to OHSA, one employee of Central Illinois Railroad, a conductor, was injured in August 2008 when a knuckle that connects railroad cars allegedly broke, causing the railcars to suddenly jolt as they were being switched. The jarring motion caused the conductor to fall, knocking him unconscious and giving him multiple injuries to his shoulder, back, and head. The railroad held an investigative hearing, which led to the conductor being terminated for allegedly violating safety rules.
However, OSHA inspectors found that the worker was fired in retaliation for reporting a work-related injury. The agency ordered the railroad to pay the conductor a total of $269,707, which includes $81,393 in back wages, $4,695 in vacation pay, $4,368 for medical bills and $4,250 in attorney’s fees, as well as punitive damages of $100,000 and compensatory damages of $75,000.
The second employee, a carman also employed by Central Illinois Railroad, reported an arm and shoulder injury that occurred in February 2008. While walking along a platform to inspect railcars in a poorly lit railyard, the carman slipped on ice and tried to catch himself, inuring his left arm and shoulder. The railroad investigated the incident and consequently fired the carman for allegedly violating the company’s injury reporting procedures.
However, OSHA found the carman had properly reported his injury. The agency ordered the railroad to reinstate the worker if he is medically released by his physician and passes a functional capacity evaluation. Additionally, the railroad must pay the employee a total of $154,694, including $14,694 in back wages, punitive damages of $75,000 and compensatory damages of $65,000. Illinois Central Railroad also must provide a copy of OSHA’s “Whistleblower Protection for Railroad Workers” fact sheet to every employee at the Markham Yard, where both incidents occurred.
In the third incident, OSHA investigators determined that Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) when it terminated a conductor after he raised concerns about workplace safety. The conductor, who was serving as local chairman of his union at the time, also reported that a trainmaster had instructed him to operate a train in violation of certain Federal Railroad Administration rules in June 2009 near Fort Wayne, Indiana. CFW&E railroad had alleged that it fired the conductor for failing to pass a locomotive engineer certification test.
OSHA’s order requires the railroad to provide the conductor with training and another opportunity to pass the test, and then upon his passing the test to reinstate his employment under the same terms and conditions as if he had passed the exam in 2009, the year he was fired. The railroad must also pay the conductor a total of $226,326, including back wages of $67,736, compensatory damages of $75,000, punitive damages of $75,000 and attorney’s fees of $8,592.
“It is critically important that railroad employees in the Midwest and across the nation know that OSHA intends to defend the rights of workers who report injuries and safety concerns,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “We will use the full force of the law to make sure that workers who are retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns are made whole.”
In a statement, OSHA advised employees who believe they were retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct to file a complaint with the secretary of labor and to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov. You can also find information about whistleblower laws on the Beasley Allen website.