In its continuing effort to strengthen employees’ voices in the workplace, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced on March 1, 2012 that it was restructuring its Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program (the “Program”). The Program will no longer report to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs; it will now report directly to OSHA’s head, Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels. Sandra Dillon, who has served as the acting director of the Program since May 2011, will now lead the restructured Program as its director.
In addition to enforcing the whistleblower protections of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Program is tasked with protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws. OSHA’s restructuring of the Program illustrates that it has made whistleblower enforcement its priority. According to Dr. Michaels, “[t]he ability of workers to speak out and exercise their rights without fear of retaliation provides the backbone for some of American workers’ most essential legal protections. OSHA’s internal improvement initiatives, including this realignment, demonstrate the agency’s steadfast commitment to strengthening a program that is critically important to the protection of worker rights.”
OSHA first announced that it would restructure the Program on August 1, 2011, as part of its multifaceted plan to intensify its enforcement of the twenty-one (21) whistleblower statutes under its authority. The implementation of this plan began with the fiscal year 2012 budget when OSHA established a separate budgetary line item for the Program to allow OSHA to better track and assess its actions. Additionally, in an attempt to further intensify the Program, OSHA has launched pilot projects to evaluate potential structural changes in its ten (10) field regions.
Due to OSHA’s increased emphasis on whistleblower enforcement, employers need to be aware of the potential risks associated with taking “adverse” action against an employee who has engaged in any activity protected by the twenty-one (21) statutes enforced by the Program. Information regarding the statutes enforced by the Program can be found at www.whistleblowers.gov.