In this incredibly uncertain time, when things seem to be changing on a daily basis, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) wants to remind employers that some things have not changed: it is still illegal to retaliate against workers who report unsafe and unhealthful conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Acts of retaliation can include:

  • terminations,
  • demotions,
  • denials of overtime or promotion, or
  • reductions in pay or hours.

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, some employees may feel that their supervisors are not doing enough to keep them safe from exposure. Those employees could find themselves requesting better conditions from their managers, but then suffering consequences due to that request. In that situation, OSHA welcomes feedback.

“Employees have the right to safe and healthy workplaces,” said OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt. “Any worker who believes that their employer is retaliating against them for reporting unsafe working conditions should contact OSHA immediately.”

Employers who have retaliated against workers for voicing their concerns about unsafe conditions are in violation of OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. This Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes, protecting employees for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health laws and for engaging in other related protected activities.

Any affected worker has a right to file a whistleblower complaint online with OSHA (or 1-800-321-OSHA) if they believe their employer has retaliated against them for exercising their rights under the whistleblower protection laws enforced by the agency. Each law has a filing deadline, varying from 30 days to 180 days, which starts when the retaliatory action occurs.

A whistleblower complaint must allege four key elements:

  • The employee engaged in activity protected by the whistleblower protection law(s) (such as reporting a violation of law);
  • The employer knew about, or suspected, that the employee engaged in the protected activity;
  • The employer took an adverse action against the employee;
  • The employee’s protected activity motivated or contributed to the adverse action.

Employers who are found to have violated an employee’s rights under the whistleblower statutes could be subject to fines and penalties.

By responding to employee complaints and avoiding any appearance of retaliating against the individual making those complaints, employers will be meeting their OSHA obligations as well as keeping workers safe and protected in this difficult time.