The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") recently found that Metra violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act ("FRSA"). According to an OSHA News Release, Metra retaliated against an employee who reported a safety complaint by changing his hours and eliminating his position.
Specifically, the employee complained that, due to time constraints, the signal routes were not tested properly. After the employee complained, the railroad began reducing his overtime hours. As a result, the employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA alleging a violation of the FRSA. The railroad retaliated once again, this time by eliminating the employee's position.
OSHA's investigation found that Metra violated the FRSA by retaliating against the employee for making a safety complaint. Nick Walters, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago, said "[a]n employer does not have the right to retaliate against employees who report safety issues. When employees can't report safety concerns on the job without fear of retaliation, worker safety and, in this case, passenger safety on Metra, becomes a serious concern."
OSHA ordered Metra to pay $38,080 in overtime, as well as interest, compensatory damages, and attorney's fees. Metra was also ordered to remove all disciplinary history stemming from this incident from the employee's personnel record, and to teach its employees about their rights under the whistleblower statute.
Retaliation for reporting safety issues is a serious concern in the railroad industry. Metra and other railroads have created an environment where employees are afraid to report injuries, and are afraid to report safety issues that affect employees, commuter passengers, and the general public. If injuries and safety hazards are not reported, the number of future injuries is bound to increase.
Railroads like Metra trade employee safety for profits, and this type of behavior must be stopped. Retaliation can only be thwarted if employees decide to hold the railroads accountable for this retaliation. The railroads will not simply stop retaliating on their own-they save large sums of money each time an injury lawsuit is discouraged or prevented. Employees must take a stand. They must hold the railroads responsible for retaliation, as well as for injuries and safety concerns.
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 or visit our Oak Park office.