Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) LLC, the second-largest freight railroad network in North America, retaliated against a North Dakota worker in December 2013 for reporting a work-related injury and submitting a physician’s treatment plan to his employer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concluded in an investigation.
OSHA ordered Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF to pay the worker more than $30,000 in back wages and damages and to take other corrective actions.
The former employee submitted a whistleblower complaint to OSHA alleging BNSF violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who report injuries, fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, and other misconduct.
In its investigation, OSHA found that the work-related injury reporting and subsequent treatment plan were factors in the company’s decision to terminate the employee and therefore constituted a direct violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
“Reporting an injury and a subsequent treatment plan ordered by a physician — regardless of an employer’s policy or deadline — is protected activity by law,” said Gregory Baxter, OSHA’s regional administrator in Denver. “BNSF failed to prove that its personnel actions were anything other than retaliation.”
In addition to back pay and damages, OSHA ordered BNSF to reinstate the worker to the same job or an equivalent job, restore seniority and benefits, and pay an additional $6,000 in compensatory damages plus legal expenses.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations in various industries, including airlines, commercial motor carriers, consumer product manufacturers, environmental services, food safety, health care reform, maritime and securities laws, and several others.