The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is part of the United States Department of Labor, has announced that it is implementing an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) pilot programme for certain whistleblower complaints.   OSHA’s mission is “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

Whistleblower Protection Programme

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programme enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various laws, including those relating to workplace safety, airlines, commercial motor carriers, consumer products, environmental, food safety, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipelines, railroads, maritime, and other areas.  Generally, if workers have been retaliated or discriminated against for exercising their rights under these statutes, they must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged adverse action. 

Pilot

The pilot programme will be implemented in two OSHA regions (Chicago, Illinois and San Francisco, California) and will offer two voluntary methods of ADR: early resolution and mediation.  When a whistleblower complaint is filed with OSHA in a pilot region, the parties will be notified of their ADR options and may work with an OSHA regional ADR coordinator to use these two voluntary methods. 

Early resolution under the pilot programme occurs when the parties to the whistleblower action voluntarily attempt to resolve the dispute prior to OSHA launching an investigation into the validity of the charge, pretext, or potential violations.  If the parties elect to pursue early resolution, an OSHA regional ADR coordinator may help the parties reach a settlement agreement before the defendant-employer even responds to the complaint. 

Mediation is defined under the pilot programme as a voluntary process in which the parties agree to use a neutral third party to assist them in resolving the dispute by mutual agreement.  OSHA has chosen the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to serve as the neutral third party mediator.  The parties may request mediation at any time after an investigation is launched, which typically follows the defendant’s response to the complaint.

OSHA has announced that Beth Slavet will be the director of the pilot programme.