OSHA Orders Reinstatement and Financial Compensation of Train Conductor Following Whistleblower Retaliation

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A recent federal investigation found that Burlington Northern Santa Fe, North America’s second-largest freight railroad, retaliated against a train conductor for reporting a knee injury. The rail operator has, as a result, been ordered to reinstate the employee and pay him $536,063 in back pay, damages, and attorney’s fees.

The train conductor, injured en route from Vancouver to Pasco in November 2010, filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act anti-discrimination complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor in February 2011. Following the injury report, BNSF filed disciplinary charges against the employee and subsequently terminated him. This was done despite knowledge that his injury report was protected by law.

Following an investigation, OSHA determined that the rail operator had violated federal laws protecting whistleblowers. The agency ordered financial compensation and reinstatement, as well as the expungement of the employee’s record of all charges and disciplinary action following reinstatement. The rail company is now also required to conduct trainings for managers and supervisors on employee whistleblower rights and post a notice informing employees of their whistleblower rights.

“Disciplining an employee for reporting an injury is illegal,” said the regional administrator for OSHA’s Seattle office, Ken Atha. “Those who do so face negative repercussions. Retaliatory actions can discourage other workers from speaking up, which may result in an unsafe work environment.” OSHA oversees the enforcement of the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA as well as 21 other statutes protecting whistleblowers who report violations of various laws.