On September 1st, 2022, the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a ruling in a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit. In summary, OSHA found that Wells Fargo violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Markedly, the agency found the financial institution improperly terminated a Chicago area-based senior manager in the company’s commercial banking segment. As a result, the San Francisco-based bank must pay the employee more than $22 million. This figure includes back wages, interest, lost bonuses and benefits, front pay, and compensatory damages. Earlier, in September 2021, OSHA published an anti-retaliation final rule under the OSH Act.

Background of the Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit

Specifically, OSHA found Wells Fargo violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act when it terminated the employee. To summarize, the senior manager repeatedly voiced concerns to area managers and the corporate ethics line. These concerns involved company conduct that they believed violated relevant financial laws, including wire fraud. The manager also expressed concerns that supervisors directed them to falsify customer information. Finally, the former employee alleged that management engaged in price fixing and interest rate collusion through exclusive dealing.

Unquestionably, based on company-required training, the manager believed the conduct was illegal. However, in 2019, they were fired. After that, Wells Fargo initially failed to provide a reason for the termination. Later, the financial brand alleged that the manager’s role disappeared as part of a restructuring process. However, investigators found the removal was inconsistent with Wells Fargo’s treatment of other managers removed under the initiative. The employee later filed the whistleblower retaliation lawsuit under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act with OSHA.

As a result of the whistleblower retaliation lawsuit decision, both parties have 30 days to file objections. Either side can also request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

In conclusion, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act and more than 20 whistleblower statutes. These statutes protect employees from retaliation for reporting violations of workplace safety and health, aviation safety, and other industries. Specifically, under the program, employers cannot take adverse action against employees who engage in protected whistleblower activities, such as:

  • firing or laying off,
  • demoting,
  • denying overtime or promotion, or
  • reducing pay or hours.

In addition to enforcing workplace whistleblower laws, OSHA is more associated with preventing workplace injuries and illnesses. According to the agency, one of the root causes of workplace injuries and illnesses is the failure of employers and employees to recognize common workplace hazards. As a result, many injuries and fatalities occur instead of employers properly correcting the hazards. Employers must implement an effective safety and health program to keep workers safe. This program should include an ongoing, proactive process to identify and rectify common workplace hazards.