Bill would give OSHA whistleblowers more protectionNews added by Benefits Pro on May 13, 2014

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By Dan Cook

The Obama administration has been methodically reinvigorating federal agencies that turned down the lights and laid off staff during the downturn. It appears the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is next in line for steroid shots.

A Department of Labor official recently testified before Congress on a series of recommendations that could significantly boost the number of cases brought by the agency against employers.

According to a Society for Human Resource Management report, chief among the recommendations he supported called for extending the statute of limitations from 30 days to 180 days to give workers more time to lodge complaints with the feds about unsafe working conditions.

David Michaels, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health at the DOL, went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in support of a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. She thinks it’s high time to take another look at the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which, she said at the hearing, hasn’t been updated since its controversial passage in 1970.

Murray’s objective is to offer workplace safety and health whistleblowers the same sorts of protections that other whistleblowers have. SHRM said that she and Michaels agreed at the hearing that OSHA’s protections lag behind all others. Among whistleblower statutes that have been updated to allow 180 days for a complaints to be filed are the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Additionally, according to SHRM, Michaels told the panel that various state workplace safety/health plans “have adopted significantly longer periods than those imposed by the act.”

Murray’s bill offers four updates to the law:
  • Extending the statute of limitations for complaints from 30 to 180 days;

  • authorizing OSHA to order immediate reinstatement of improperly terminated workers;

  • reducing the burden of proof on the whistleblower to show that he or she was terminated or reprimanded for blowing the whistle;

  • and two provisions that would create new processes for resolving complaints that were either dismissed by OSHA or where the resolution didn’t happen in a timely manner.
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