Record Number of OSHA Whistleblower Investigations

OSHA has officially reached a milestone in federal whistleblower cases: they have investigated over 3,000 cases in a fiscal year. It’s the first time they have handled this many cases in one fiscal year. According to OSHA, they took on 3% more cases in 2014 (fiscal year) than they did in 2013 (fiscal year). The actual number of whistleblower complaints wasn’t disclosed by OSHA, but a study conducted by Bloomberg BNA in 2014 indicated that only 41% of the complaints made passed the initial screening process and resulted in further investigation (from cases filed 2011-2013).

The meaning behind the increase in cases investigated isn’t clear, but some point to the increased amount of media attention that is being given to substantial settlements and awards being offered to plaintiffs in whistleblower cases. The new high in case filings aside, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee’s chairperson, E. Spieler, indicated that there had been predictions that the caseload would increase at OSHA due to the introduction of online filing for whistleblower complaints that occurred in 2013. In combination with the release of the online filing capability, findings in late 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court on whistleblower provisions (Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)) hold that statutory protection extends to a public company’s private contractors/sub-contractors.

The bulk of the cases were related to safety:

  • 1,729 filed under the anti-retaliation clause, Section 11(c)
  • 463 filed under the STAA
  • 351 filed under the Federal Railroad Safety Act

The growth of cases could spring from a 2014 memorandum of understanding between FMSCA and OSHA. The memorandum put OSHA in charge of handling cases involving commercial vehicle drivers making allegations of discrimination based on the reporting of safety issues.

For more information on safety regulations and standards in California workplaces, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.