As part of its effort to protect employee whistleblowers, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's Whistleblower Protection Program launched on December 5 an online complaint system to make it easier for employees to file complaints against unsuspecting employers. The Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower protection provisions of 22 different federal whistleblower statutes, covering a broad range of industries and topics. These statutes protect employees who engage in numerous types of whistleblower activity, such as reporting a work-related injury, illness, or fatality; participating in safety and health activities; or reporting a violation of a statute or regulation.

Workers may now complete a simple online form at the Program's website to initiate a complaint against their employer. This free online system provides yet another avenue for workers to file a whistleblower complaint. As before, workers may also file a complaint in writing or by calling an agency hotline or regional office. With the creation of the online complaint system, employers covered by the federal whistleblower statutes should expect whistleblower complaints to increase.

Employers must be aware when making employment-related decisions that numerous anti-retaliation protections for employees exist, in addition to protections created by Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA, and other similar statutes. For example, all of the following statutes are enforced as part of the Whistleblower Protection Program and provide whistleblower protection to employees:

  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA)
  • Clean Air Act (CAA)
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA)
  • Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA)
  • Energy Reorganization Act (ERA)
  • Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA)
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA)
  • International Safe Container Act (ISCA)
  • National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (PSIA)
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
  • Seaman's Protection Act (SPA)
  • Section 1558 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA)
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA)
  • Section 402 of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
  • Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21)
  • Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21)

TAKE AWAY

The free online complaint system makes it even easier for workers to file whistleblower complaints. Employees can now file a whistleblower complaint quickly and simply without speaking to an attorney or an OSHA representative. With the New Year approaching and the anticipated increase in whistleblower complaints, now is an opportune time to ensure that policies are updated and managers are educated on the many whistleblower statutes that could lead to complaints.

BakerHostetler's Whistleblower and Corporate Compliance Practice Team has significant and diverse experience protecting employers from whistleblower claims. We have worked with OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program and successfully defended employers against whistleblower claims by their employees in many regions across the United States. We have also helped employers prevent whistleblower claims before they arise by updating policies, practices, and training. Please give us a call if you have any questions about potential exposure to whistleblower claims.