Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Dr. David Michaels has appointed Beth Slavet as the new director of the Agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Slavet is an employment attorney who has specialized in representing unions, Foreign Service employees and other government workers, with a focus on whistleblower protection. Slavet has spent the last decade in private practice.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (“OSH”) Act of 1970 and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report alleged violations of various workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety and consumer financial reform regulations.
Slavet’s appointment follows OSHA’s announcement that it plans to revamp the whistleblowing program by centralizing decision-making authority for whistleblower appeals under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act in the national office. Previously, decision-making in whistleblower cases was handled in regional offices. In addition, according to the announcement, the national office now will handle complaints under the OSH Act, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, and the International Safe Container Act, the three statutes of the 22 with whistleblower provisions enforced by the Whistleblower Protection Program that do not provide for an avenue of appeal. This directive was meant to address a backlog in whistleblower appeals, following findings critical of the delays in clearing cases.
Slavet’s Career History
From 1995 to 2003, Slavet served on the Merit Systems Protection Board, first as a member, then as Vice Chairman, and finally as Chairman, appointed by President Clinton in 2000. From 1993 to 1995, Slavet was Labor Counsel to the Labor and Human Resources Committee of the U.S. Senate, working closely with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA). She also served as Legislative Counsel and Staff Director to Congressman Chet Atkins (D-MA) from 1992 to 1993.
Slavet practiced labor and employment law from 1986 through 1992, in private practice, and served as counsel to the American Federation of Government Employees (“AFGE”) Local 1812 in Washington, D.C. from 1979 to 1984. AFGE Local 1812 was the exclusive bargaining representative for civil and foreign service employees of the United States Information Agency.
Slavet received a B.A. from Brandeis University and a J.D. from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Slavet resides in Washington, D.C.
What This Appointment Means to Employers
Slavet’s appointment is one of several developments in the last two years signaling a growing investment by the Department of Labor, and, as a general matter, the Obama Administration, in whistleblower mechanisms and resources as a means of combating corporate fraud and abuse and other alleged violations of law. This appointment may suggest a pro-employee OSHA Whistleblower Protection Program that will tend to support employee claims of discrimination. OSHA stands ready to respond to employee complaints about health and safety, corporate fraud and any ensuing retaliation by the employer. More than ever, employers must recognize that their employees have multiple forums for their whistleblower claims. An updated Code of Conduct and an internal hotline mechanism that encourages internal reporting to the organization are critically important.