Last summer, two truck drivers employed by an Oklahoma City roofing company shared a serious safety concern with their manager: They reported that the tires on the company truck they were driving were damaged, and that they were concerned not only about their own safety, but also the safety of others on the road. Until the issue was addressed, they weren’t comfortable driving the vehicle. The employer’s response? Firing both drivers.
The whistleblower division of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated and found that the employer violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, one of more than 20 whistleblower statutes we enforce. We ordered the company to reinstate both drivers, and to pay them more than $23,000 in back wages and $70,000 in punitive damages. The company is also required to train managers and employees on workers’ rights under the STAA to help prevent any future illegal retaliation against employees.
Under federal law, workers have the right to raise concerns if they believe their rights are being violated in the workplace.
Similarly, the statute enforced by the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration provides strong protections for miners. Under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, miners have the right to report hazardous conditions and can refuse to work in unsafe conditions. Miners may not be fired, demoted, harassed, intimidated, transferred, refused employment, discriminated against or suffer any loss of wages for exercising their rights under the Mine Act. These are critical protections that allow miners to actively participate in the safety of their workplace, and MSHA takes enforcement of hazard and discrimination complaints seriously.
And similar rights apply to pay concerns, too – If employers don’t pay workers all the wages they’ve earned, they can speak up without fear of retaliation. The department’s Wage and Hour Division enforces laws on the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child labor requirements, as well as laws about working conditions and payment for agricultural and migrant workers. The division protects workers subject to wage garnishment, too. Any worker protected by any of the laws that the division enforces is protected by their anti-retaliation provisions. View our online resources to determine whether a particular law applies. We enforce the law regardless of a worker’s immigration status, and can communicate with workers in more than 200 languages.
National Whistleblower Appreciation Day
As we recognize National Whistleblower Appreciation Day on July 30, we celebrate all of the brave workers, like these drivers, who speak out against unsafe or unfair working conditions, and thank them for their contributions to ensuring a safer, more just workforce for themselves and their co-workers. Because of their actions, lives and livelihoods have been saved.
The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to protecting every worker’s right to speak up without retaliation if they are mistreated, denied their rights or have concerns about safety. Unfortunately, we know that many workers are not protected by their employers when they speak up, and that they need a place to turn if they’re punished, lose their job or are simply afraid to say something directly to their employer.
Employers who retaliate against workers are not only breaking the law, they’re creating an unsafe, unfair work environment for all of their employees. Acts of retaliation can include reducing pay or work hours, firing or suspending workers, reassignment, discipline or demotion, threats, harassment or intimidation, and blacklisting from future hiring.
While we’re committed to strong enforcement, we’re also dedicated to education and outreach so that employers know the rules and have access to resources to ensure workers have a platform to speak up. An open line of communication goes a long way in the workplace, and we encourage employers to create an anti-retaliation program to help improve employee engagement.
Any risk to workers’ safety is unacceptable, and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for employers when it comes to keeping workers safe on the job. While many businesses are acting in good faith, we’ve seen many that have failed to implement basic steps to protect workers. In 2020, OSHA issued nearly $4 million in citations from 300 inspections for violations related to the coronavirus at businesses that failed to provide the necessary personal protective equipment or other resources to help keep workers safe during the pandemic. Many of these cases were reported to us by concerned workers who feared for their lives, as well as the lives of their family and co-workers, before the availability of the vaccine.
Report a concern
Learn more about our whistleblower protection programs online, including how to file a complaint, or contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) with workplace safety or health concerns. Report a mining accident or a hazardous condition at a mine, impoundment or abandoned mine online or by calling 1-800-745-1553. You can learn more about your wage and hour rights or file a complaint by contacting the Wage and Hour Division online or by calling at 1-866-4-US-WAGE (1-866-487-9243).
Jeannette Galanis is the deputy assistant secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Jim Frederick is the acting assistant secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Jessica Looman is the acting administrator for the Wage and Hour Division. Follow @MSHA_DOL, @OSHA_DOL and @WHD_DOL on Twitter.