The essence of the OSHA’s Whistleblower laws aims to give workers the confidence to report workplace related illnesses, injuries, and violations without fear of employer retaliation. Without that confidence, hazardous & unsafe conditions could go unreported, uncorrected, and continue putting workers in danger.
And, when companies do retaliate, they face serious consequences.
Recently, OSHA investigators determined that one of the largest airlines in the United States (based out of Forth Worth, Texas), has done exactly that, and must now face the music.
In a recent statement, OSHA says the airline punished its flight attendants who reported work-related illnesses caused by toxic fuel fumes entering aircraft cabins. This major airline operates an extensive international and domestic flight network, with almost 7,000 flights to over 300 destinations; in more than 50 countries. The airline employs over 100,000 employees, including more than 24,000 flight attendants.
Let’s take a look at what led to this unfortunate series of events, and what’s next for the company.
A whistleblower investigation initiated on August 2, 2022, by OSHA revealed that the airline punished employees who filed complaints about workplace-related illnesses with the company.
The flight attendants involved alleged that the airline docked attendance points, and discouraged them from reporting workplace related illnesses, injuries and violations.
“Our investigation found that the flight attendants engaged in protected activities when they reported illnesses related to jet fuel fumes seeping into the aircraft cabin,” said Timothy Minor, Fort Worth’s OSHA Area Director. “Workers must feel empowered to inform managers and others about potential hazards that jeopardize workers’ safety and health,” he added.
Whistleblower laws are critical aspects of OSHA’s safety policies, and without them, employees would have little recourse in dangerous situations.
Related Article: Worker Complaints Leave Company Facing $298K in Fines
The airline in question now has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Related Article: What to Know About CAARA and AMLA, & OSHA Whistleblower Protection
What to Know About OSHA’s Whistleblower Laws
Employees working in industries covered by these laws maintain the right to file complaints, and to be protected from retaliation by employers for reporting violations involving workplace safety and health, and other protected activities.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program helps companies create or enhance workplaces in which participants, including employees, contractors, and temporary workers, can feel comfortable raising concerns without fear of retaliation.
A workplace with an effective anti-retaliation (whistleblower) program contributes to a safer and healthier environment, and a positive workplace culture. Successful & compliant policies work to benefit both employee morale and business as a whole.
OSHA’s whistleblower laws provides a framework for establishing and maintaining non-mandatory anti-retaliation practices. The program’s principal recommendations were unanimously endorsed by the Secretary of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee.
Its five main elements cover:
- Management Commitment, Leadership, and Accountability
- Compliance Concern Response System
- Anti-Retaliation Response System
- Anti-Retaliation Training
- Program Oversight
Obviously complying with safety regulations & principles is the first step in avoiding any safety incidents and OSHA penalties. But, if the situation ever arises in which your workers turn to OSHA for help, you cannot retaliate.
Firing or threatening workers, or punishing them through any other means (like cutting hours, for instance) constitutes a direct violation of whistleblower laws. As such, it only serves to make an already difficult situation even worse.
Safety laws exist for a reason. And, as shown by the case now facing the airline in question, breaking them comes with serious consequences.
Addressing issues in the proper manner is always your best choice.
*** About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees. Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience.
You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.