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OSHA Announces Initiative to Overhaul Whistleblower Protection Program

    Client Alerts
  • August 05, 2011

On Monday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced new measures intended to strengthen its Whistleblower Protection Program (WPP). OSHA's WPP is intended to allow employees and others to report suspected violation of workplace safety and other laws without fear of retaliation. The initiative was prompted by a recent top-to-bottom review of the system that revealed significant issues with OSHA's handling of retaliation claims.

OSHA will restructure the WPP, raising its profile within the agency. Whistleblower investigators from federal and state deferral agencies will be retrained with regard to legal and procedural requirements. OSHA will modify its data collection process to insure that charges are handled on a more timely basis.

For employers, this announcement has several important aspects. First, OSHA will require state workplace safety programs, including those in North and South Carolina, to upgrade their retaliation investigation resources, meaning that such charges will get more investigatory attention. On-site investigations and interviews may become more commonplace, rather than dismissals based solely on the initial written employer response.

Second, federal OSHA's WPP enforces anti-retaliation provisions of a number of laws other than workplace safety protections. These include Sarbanes-Oxley securities violation claims, a number of environmental protection laws, and a variety of consumer, healthcare and financial protection laws. Companies subject to these statutes can also expect increased resources and attention to retaliation claims.