Part of cultivating a zero-accident culture is encouraging workers to speak up when they notice safety hazards. But what if the worker is afraid to point out safety hazards to supervisors and management? What if the employee fears that pointing out the mistakes of his superiors would negatively impact his ability to be promoted or even keep his job?
In a perfect world, an employee would be applauded, not discriminated against, for trying to prevent a potential accident from occurring. But bruised egos and lost profits can make whistleblowers unpopular with some supervisors and coworkers.
For this reason, OSHA offers its Whistleblower Program, designed to protect employees from being discriminated against for exercising a safety or health right. These protected rights include complaining to OSHA and seeking an OSHA inspection, participating in an OSHA inspection, and participating or testifying in any proceeding related to an OSHA inspection.
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you because you exercised your safety and health rights, OSHA advises you should contact your local OSHA office right away, because most discrimination complaints fall under the OSH Act, which gives you only 30 days to report discrimination.
When filing a complaint of discrimination or retaliation, the employee bares the burden of proof. The individual must prove that he or she engaged in protected activity, the employer knew about that activity, the employer subjected him or her to an adverse employment action, and the protected activity contributed to the adverse action.
In such a case, discrimination can include firing or laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, disciplining, denial of benefits, failure to hire or rehire, intimidation, reassignment affecting prospects for promotion, or reducing pay or hours.