OSHA orders whistleblowers rehired at Norfolk Southern

Michael P. Tremoglie Jun. 20, 2012, 7:00am

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that Norfolk Southern Railway Co. violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

It ordered the company to pay three whistleblowers $802,168.70 in damages, including $525,000 in punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

Three concurrent OSHA investigations in Columbia, S.C., Nashville, Tenn., and Harrisburg, Pa., caused OSHA to believe that there was reasonable cause to suspect that Norfolk Southern was dismissing employees who reported workplace injuries.

OSHA alleges that a Greenville laborer was terminated on Aug. 14, 2009, after reporting an injury as a result of being hit by the company's gang truck; a Louisville, Ky., engineer was terminated on March 31, 2010, after reporting an injury as a result of tripping and falling in a locomotive restroom; and a railroad conductor based in Harrisburg was terminated on July 22, 2010, after reporting a head injury sustained when he blacked out and fell down steps while returning from the locomotive lavatory.

OSHA also says the injured employees were treated differently from other employees because of reporting the injury, Norfolk Southern claimed the employee injury was falsified and the reports were fraudulent or the employee was deemed incompetent. OSHA ordered each reinstated with pay, damages and fees.

"Firing workers for reporting an injury is not only illegal, it also endangers all workers. When workers are discouraged from reporting injuries, no investigation into the cause of an injury can occur," Assistant Secretary of Labor forOccupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels said.

"To prevent more injuries, railroad workers must be able to report an injury without fear of retaliation. The Labor Department will continue to protect all employees, including those in the railroad industry, from retaliation for exercising these basic worker rights. Employers found in violation will be held accountable."

According to OSHA, these actions followed several other orders issued by OSHA against Norfolk Southern Railway Co. during the past year.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities laws, trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, workplace safety and health regulations, and consumer product safety laws.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program.

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