Railroad Whistleblower Awarded $225k After Injury Report Retaliation

October 22, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) of the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) determined that Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, a railroad company headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”) when it terminated an employee in Kansas City after the employee reported an injury.  According to an OSHA press release, the agency ordered BNSF to pay the employee over $225,000 in back pay and damages, and to remove any disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record.

The employee had suffered an injury temporarily restricting him from returning to work.  OSHA’s investigation confirmed the employee’s allegations that Burlington Northern then launched an investigation into the employee’s past medical reports, leading to a conclusion that the employee had been dishonest about previous, minor workplace injury reports.  The company then terminated the employee just a few months after the employee reported the more recent injury, allegedly based on its conclusions about past misrepresentations.

OSHA determined that in terminating the employee, Burlington Northern  violated the FRSA’s whistleblower protection provision.  The FRSA whistleblower protection provision protects employees who report workplace injuries, in addition to protecting employees who report unsafe working or railroad conditions.   Freedom to report workplace injuries without retaliation is critical to railroad safety – after all, no passengers want the conductor operating their trains to be working with concussions or other injuries.  Marcia P. Drumm, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Kansas City, Missouri, stated: “The resolution of this case will restore the employee’s dignity and ability to support his family.  It is illegal to discipline an employee for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. Whistleblower protections play an important role in keeping workplaces safe because they protect people from choosing between their health and disciplinary action.”

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