Employees who report violations of safety and labor laws are protected under a variety of whistleblower laws. These federal laws are enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and are designed to prevent employers from retaliating against employees.
The Whistleblower Protection Laws cover employees who report any type of workplace safety violations, including those in the airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities industries.
Examples of workplace retaliation include being:
- Fired, demoted or laid off
- Blacklisted with other employers
- Denied promotion, overtime or other common worker privileges
- Denied benefits
- Disciplined unfairly
- Intimidated or threatened
- Paid at a reduced rate
Employee actions that are protected under the whistleblower laws include making a complaint with OSHA, raising health or safety concerns with the employer, trying to access employer injury and illness reports, or talking with an inspector. Employees who believe they were retaliated against must file an OSHA complaint within 30 days of the retaliatory event.
New York State has its own statute that offers protection similar to that provided by the federal laws. The language of New York law reads in part:
“Public and private employers cannot discipline or take retaliatory action against employees who disclose or threaten to disclose activities, policies or practices that violate laws or regulations or threaten public health or safety. The protections extend to public employees who disclose to a governmental body information that they reasonably believe to be an improper governmental action. Aggrieved employees can sue for reinstatement, back-pay and benefits and may be entitled to courts costs and attorney fees. A prevailing employer may recover court costs and attorney fees if the suit is not based on law or fact.”