In a notice published in yesterday’s Federal Register, Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, announced the formation of the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC). The notice explains:

WPAC’s duties will be solely advisory and consultative. WPAC will advise, consult with, and make recommendations to the Secretary and the Assistant


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new Whistleblower Investigations Manual last year.  The new manual includes some improvements for whistleblowers, such as accepting oral complaints (which is particularly helpful in meeting the short 30-day time limits for environmental and Section 11(c) cases), using digital recording for interviews, and providing more guidance in

The U.S. Department of Labor, for the first time, has proposed making its whistleblower protection program a separate line item. The Department released its proposed budget yesterday. It includes $21 million in a separate line for the whistleblower program. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis answered questions in a live chat yesterday. The Houston Examiner participated

Terrence Blocker worked for the Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company in New Haven, Connecticut, since 2003. He was a laborer in Metro-North’s maintenance shop (called the MU Shop), and a union member.

On July 27, 2008, Blocker was operating a shuttle wagon. It tipped over and fell into a repair pit. Blocker suffered a small cut on his forehead, and he had stiff muscles starting the following day. On July 30, 2008, Blocker saw a doctor who discovered he had sprained his spine and right shoulder. When Blocker later asked for a copy of the company’s report of the accident, he discovered there was none. On August 25, 2008, Blocker’s doctor recommended physical therapy. That same day, Metro North management decided to conduct a trial to determine if Blocker was responsible for the accident. Blocker stopped going to his physical therapy because he thought the company would not pay for it. Metro North found Blocker guilty of unsafe operation of the shuttle wagon and imposed a 10-day suspension on him.  Blocker promptly complained to OSHA that this suspension was unlawful retaliation in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. § 20109. Management then gave notice that they would conduct another trial against Blocker, accusing him of providing false information to OSHA. Blocker filed an amended complaint with OSHA alleging that the new trial was unlawful retaliation for filing his original OSHA complaint. Management then amended its notice for the hearing to claim that he was guilty of failing to report his injury and submit his medical substantiation. After the trial, management imposed a 30-day suspension on Blocker, for the offense of filing "a false statement in your complaint to [OSHA] claiming violations of the [FRSA]." Management explained to OSHA that this was a typographical error.

OSHA has now ordered Metro North to pay Blocker $75,000 in punitive damages, and to pay Blocker’s attorney, Charlie Goetsch. "Taking repeated disciplinary action against an employee who exercised his legal right to report an on-the-job injury and voiced a complaint about retaliatory treatment by his employer is unconscionable," said Marthe Kent, OSHA’s New England regional administrator in a press release. "Such treatment instills a culture of silence in which hazardous conditions are masked because employees will be fearful of reporting them."

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Last July, the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) joined with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) in submitting a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. The letter raised concerns about whether the Department of Labor (DOL) was doing enough to improve DOL’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Today we received

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OSHALast week the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General’s office issued a report finding that most of the Department’s whistleblower investigations are flawed. The IG’s office reviewed investigative files of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which has responsibility to enforce the employee protections of 17 federal statutes. It found that OSHA dismissed 77% of the whistleblower complaints. In 21% of cases, the complainant withdrew the complaint, either with or without a settlement. That left 2% of cases in which OSHA found the complaint had merit. This is not a rate that would encourage employees to come forward with concerns that might provoke retaliation.

The study examined a sample of the files for compliance with eight essential components of an investigation. These components are things like interviewing the complainant, documenting that interview, asking for witnesses, interviewing the witnesses, visiting the site, allowing the complainant to respond to the employer’s claims, and conducting a closing conference. “These elements are essential to the investigative process to ensure that complainants receive appropriate investigations,” the report states at page 3. Compliance with these standards ranges from 54% (conducting face-to-face visits, or a site visit) to 85% (holding a closing conference). The IG concluded that 80% of the investigations failed to meet one or more of the eight essential elements. 

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) has issued a letter announcing the appointment of two new judges, and a new policy on briefing schedules. The two new judges are Joanne Royce and Luis Corchado. Royce previously worked for the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and a House committee. Corchado was Assistant Director of

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that it filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma City against Modern Oil Company, the operator of 30 Kwick Stop convenience stores.  The lawsuit alleges that after OSHA investigated a workplace safety complaint at one of its stores in Shawnee, Oklahoma, management grilled the three employees of that