OSHA rule addresses retaliation complaints

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published a final rule establishing procedures for handling retaliation complaints under the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This rule also explains the burdens of proof, remedies, and statute of limitations similar to other whistleblower protection statutes that OSHA administers.

Section 402 of FSMA, signed into law in January 2011, protects employees who disclose information about a possible violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act from retaliation by employers that manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold, or import food.

“Food industry workers must never be silenced by the threat of losing their jobs when their safety or the safety of the public is at stake,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr David Michaels. “This rule underscores the agency’s commitment to protect the rights of workers who report illegal activity in their workplace.”

In 2014, OSHA published an interim final rule and requested public comments. This final rule responds to those comments, clarifies the agency’s policy regarding approval of settlement agreements, and improves consistency with the language of the statute, other OSHA whistleblower regulations, and developments in applicable case law.

The federal agency maintains a program to protect employees who report violations of workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety and consumer financial reform regulations. According to the Whistleblower Protection Program website:

Rights afforded by these whistleblower protection laws include, but are not limited to, worker participation in safety and health activities, reporting a work-related injury, illness or fatality, or reporting a violation of the statutes herein.

Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees for exercising their rights under the OSH Act. These rights include filing an OSHA complaint, participating in an inspection or talking to an inspector, seeking access to employer exposure and injury records, reporting an injury, and raising a safety or health complaint with the employer. If workers have been retaliated or discriminated against for exercising their rights, they must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged adverse action.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance.

For more information, go to www.osha.gov.

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