Union Pacific Ordered to Reinstate OSHA Whistle-Blower, Pay $300,000.00

Judy Greenwald

Courtesy of Business Insurance.com

December 21, 2011 – 2:24pm

SEATTLE—Union Pacific Railroad Co. has been ordered to reinstate a whistle-blower employee who was terminated after reporting a work-related injury and to pay him more than $300,000, according to the Department of Labor‘s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

However, Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific said it plans to appeal the award, which includes back wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Union Pacific also said OSHA’s Tuesday announcement contradicts another government finding in the case.

According to a statement by OSHA’s Seattle office, the Idaho employee, whose name has not been released as per its policy in such cases, filed a whistle-blower complaint with the agency alleging that the employee had been suspended without pay and then terminated 23 days after notifying the company of an on-the-job injury in May 2010.

OSHA statement

OSHA said it found “reasonable cause to believe the disciplinary charge and termination were not based on the complainant breaking a work rule but on the complainant reporting an injury to the railroad,” in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s whistle-blower protection provisions.

OSHA said the railroad was found to have “similarly violated” the FRSA in four other U.S. cases since 2009.

“This case sends a clear message that OSHA will not tolerate retaliation against workers for reporting a work-related injury.” Assistant DOL Secretary David Michaels said in a statement. “An unreported injury is an uninvestigated injury. Nothing is learned that can help prevent the next injury. The safety of all workers is endangered when employers intimidate injured workers so that they do not report injuries.”

Appeal planned

In its statement, Union Pacific said it “strongly disagrees with OSHA’s ruling and its public statement. We will seek an immediate appeal, where our evidence will demonstrate that Union Pacific’s actions were appropriate and legal.”

Union Pacific also said, “This case is an example of conflicting federal government policies that are so frustrating to Americans and so harmful to the U.S. economy.

“OSHA reprimanded Union Pacific for its actions and imposed punitive damages to punish us. Only three weeks ago, however, a separate government-mandated review process, under the Railway Labor Act and the employee’s collective bargaining agreement, reached exactly the opposite conclusion, finding that Union Pacific had properly disciplined and dismissed the same employee.

“Americans and American businesses should not be subject to radically conflicting decisions, both under federal law, accompanied by excessive and punitive fines. Union Pacific will ask the courts—and Congress, if necessary—to address the government’s in ability to speak with one voice.”

In August, OSHA ordered Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. to pay $300,000 in a similar case.

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