One government agency is taking steps to resolve disputes between employers and workers when it comes to so-called “whistleblower” cases.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced in October that it is launching an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) pilot program to address complaints filed with the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
OSHA says ADR will help employees and employers resolve their disputes in a mutually beneficial manner. It will provide two voluntary methods of ADR: mediation and early resolution.
The program is initially slated for two OSHA regions: Chicago and San Francisco. When OSHA receives a whistleblower complaint in one of the pilot regions, it will officially advise the parties concerned of their ADR options. If needed, they will send an OSHA regional ADR coordinator to employ these methods.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels, said this is in alignment with OSHA’s commitment to enforce the whistleblower laws enacted by Congress and protect the interests of the American worker. He emphasized that ADR facilitates resolution and offers immediate relief to the disputing parties.
The Chicago Regional Office will be responsible for whistleblower cases in Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. The San Francisco Regional Office will be in charge of whistleblower investigations filed in Nevada, California, Arizona and the various Pacific islands, including Hawaii, Guam, Western Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 stipulates that employers are responsible for providing safe work sites. OSHA’s task is to ensure that safe conditions are always met by setting protocols and enforcing standards, and by making training and assistance available to both employees and employers.
An important part of that responsibility is enforcing the whistleblower provisions of all 22 laws covering workers in the public and private sectors. About 2,500 whistleblower complaints are filed every year with OSHA offices nationwide in such diverse industries as transportation, air travel, pipeline, rail, health care, finance, and food.
Whistleblower protection means that an employer cannot retaliate by:
- Firing or laying off
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denial of benefits
- Failure to hire or rehire
- Making threats
- Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion
- Reducing pay or hours
Workers can file a complaint with OSHA if their employer retaliates against them by taking unfavorable personnel action because they engaged in protected activity relating to workplace safety and health.
If you believe that an employer has retaliated against you, contact your local OSHA office. OSHA will conduct an in-depth interview with each complainant to determine whether to conduct an investigation.
Whistleblower protection guarantees freedom of speech for workers and contractors in certain legal and employment situations. Laws such as the Ethics in Government Act cannot be enforced if free speech is not protected for workers reporting corruption or crime in the workplace. A non-disclosure agreement in private business can complicate what is and what is not protected speech; as a result, whistleblower laws are often confusing and hard to navigate.
Details of the ADR program can be accessed at while information the OSHA whistleblower program can be viewed at the Whistleblower Protection Program website.