On August 20, 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") reported that it had ordered Illinois Central Railroad and Wisconsin Central Ltd. to pay damages for violating the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act ("FRSA"). According to an OSHA News Release, both railroads retaliated against employees who reported injuries on the job.
Wisconsin Central fired a conductor for reporting an injury at the end of his shift. The railroad tried to excuse its actions by stating that it fired the employee "for not formally reporting his injury immediately after it occurred." OSHA did not buy the railroad's excuse, and ordered the railroad to reinstate the conductor and pay more than $185,000 in lost wages and punitive damages.
The story was similar at Illinois Central Railroad. Illinois Central disciplined an engineer with a 20-day deferred suspension after the engineer reported that he had hurt his back while securing a hand brake. He reported the injury three hours after the injury, when he started to feel stiffness in his back. The railroad investigated the incident and disciplined the engineer for not immediately reporting the injury. OSHA once again did not buy the railroad's excuse, and ordered Illinois Central to pay $100,000 in punitive damages and $5,000 in compensatory damages.
Railroad Workers Should Not Be Afraid to Report Injuries
Our Chicago railroad injury lawyers know that we cannot allow railroads to retaliate against employees for reporting injuries. When a worker is injured on the job, he should not be afraid to report the injury. Pretending like an injury never occurred is a recipe for disaster-the employee is likely to either aggravate the existing injury, or cause new injuries to himself or his co-workers by continuing to work in a weakened state. The bottom line is that if injuries and safety hazards are not reported, the number of future injuries is bound to increase.
Railroads like Illinois Central and Wisconsin Central are more concerned with making money than they are with employee safety. They retaliate against employees to prevent their workers from reporting injuries and filing lawsuits. In essence, the railroads retaliate so that they do not have to pay for the injuries that they caused. The only way to stop this retaliation is for employees to take a stand.
Congress enacted the whistleblower statute to protect employees, and to create a safer workplace. In order for Congress' intent to become a reality, employees must enforce their rights under the whistleblower statute-not only for their own safety, but also for the safety of their co-workers and the general public.
If you are a railroad employee and have been retaliated against for reporting an injury or a safety hazard, contact Coplan & Crane at 800-394-6002 for a free case evaluation or visit our Oak Park office.