Iowa Railroad Reproved for Retaliating against Whistleblowing Conductor

OSHA has ordered the Iowa Interstate Railroad, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, to make amends for censuring a train conductor who was disciplined in reprisal for reporting a workplace injury.

The railroad issued an employee a notification of formal investigation in January 2009 in reprisal for reporting a work injury and also retaliated against the employee by disciplining him in the form of a letter of censure, OSHA said. The employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, alleging that the railroad had retaliated against him for reporting his work injury. The agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program conducted an investigation under the Federal Rail Safety Act, found merit to the complaint, and ordered relief.

"An employer does not have the right to retaliate against its employees who report work-related injuries," said Michael G. Connors, OSHA regional administrator in Chicago. "While OSHA is best known for ensuring the safety and health of employees, it is also a federal government whistleblower protection agency."

OSHA has ordered IIR to cease and desist automatic issuance of a notice of investigation for employees who report work injuries without reasonable suspicion that a hearing will uncover evidence of a policy violation or misconduct. The agency also has ordered IIR to take corrective actions by expunging all files and computerized data systems of references to the disciplinary hearing involving the employee, as well as those of references related to the letter of censure.

Additionally, OSHA has ordered the railroad to pay the employee $1,000 in punitive damages, to post and provide its employees with information on their FRSA whistleblower rights, and within 30 days inform the OSHA regional administrator in writing of the steps it has taken to comply with the above order.

IIR and the complainant have 30 days from receipt of the findings to file an appeal with the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. Under the FRSA, employees of a railroad carrier and its contractors and subcontractors are protected against retaliation for reporting on-the-job injuries and illnesses, as well as reporting certain safety and security violations and cooperating with investigations by OSHA and other regulatory agencies.

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