The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently held a public stakeholder meeting to discuss its Whistleblower Protection Program and how it can improve its administration of the 20-plus whistleblower protection provisions it is responsible for enforcing, including Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (ERA). As we reported, OSHA is holding these stakeholder meetings in lieu of the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee due to the administration’s reduction in advisory committees. This call followed a similar call OSHA hosted in May, on which we also reported.
During this call, OSHA asked stakeholders for input on several categories, including how OSHA can provide better customer service and whether there are particular issues in the healthcare and grocery industries of which OSHA should be aware. Several stakeholder groups contributed to the conversation, including representatives from industry and legal providers, along with self-described whistleblowers. Their comments fell into several broad categories:
- Ensuring workers understand their whistleblower protections
Several commenters expressed concern that workers are not aware of the protections afforded by the various whistleblower protection statutes, and, consequently, are hesitant to raise concerns to their employers. Commenters noted that OSHA should make a greater effort to ensure that employees know what activities are protected and that they should report any instances of retaliation.
- OSHA workload and staffing
Several commenters stated they believe OSHA is not sufficiently staffed to handle the volume of whistleblower concerns it receives. Acknowledging that some concerns are not meritorious, these commenters feared that OSHA could not handle the claims that require investigation with current staffing. They emphasized a need to hire additional investigators and staff to review complaints and investigate claims.
- Workers’ rights in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
Finally, commenters noted that many workers are not aware of their rights as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that workers are not being adequately protected. These commenters urged the need for more transparency from OSHA, especially as the rules and regulations surrounding the pandemic continue to evolve.
We will continue to monitor this area for new developments and any changes OSHA makes to its Whistleblower Protection Program.