Over the past several years many employers have taken advantage of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Outreach Training Program to provide employees with training in the identification and reduction of job-related hazards. Changes to the program announced by OSHA last week may cause employers to reconsider their participation or encouragement in these programs.
OSHA announced that the basic outreach training will now include a new component emphasizing workers' rights. This training will include instructions on how employees can pursue legal claims against their employers if they believe that they have been retaliated against for exercising their rights under the OSH Act. OSHA stated their hope that the new training will embolden employees to exercise whistleblower rights where appropriate.
Employers that have encouraged and sponsored employees to participate in the outreach program may rethink their position if they interpret the training as encouraging and advising employees to sue their employers. This move by OSHA is the latest in a series of regulatory developments that emphasizes the adversarial relationship between OSHA and the employers it oversees. OSHA is reducing resources available for consultative and cooperative risk reduction efforts with employers in favor of enforcement efforts.
This move by the agency may have the unintended effect of diminishing employers' willingness to pay for and provide time away from work for what otherwise is valuable training.