OSHA Orders Railroad to Pay $18,830 for Interfering with Worker's Medical Treatment

OSHA found that the railroad, which provides commuter rail service in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, interfered with the worker's medical treatment and forced him to work in violation of his physician's orders.

An investigation by OSHA has determined that Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. violated the employee protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act when it took retaliatory action against an employee at its Harmon Diesel Shop in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., who reported a workplace injury. OSHA found that the railroad, which provides commuter rail service in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, interfered with the worker's medical treatment and forced him to work in violation of his physician's orders.

The employee, a laborer, injured his finger on June 26, 2009, and reported it to management, who first attempted to dissuade him from seeking medical treatment. The worker received sutures at a nearby hospital, where he was instructed to not use his hand until the sutures healed, and to keep the hand clean and dry. The railroad's occupational health service determined that the injury disqualified the worker from duty, but the facilities director of the diesel shop persuaded the health service to change the worker's status to restricted duty. The worker's personal physician excused him from work until the sutures were removed and supplied written notice that he should not lift heavy objects or immerse his hands in chemicals, actions he performed in the normal course of his duties. In spite of these instructions and the employee's restricted work status, management ordered him back to work and required him to perform these duties.

"Metro-North's actions in this case are unacceptable and send a message of intimidation to its workforce," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. "Railroad employees must be free to report injuries without fear that their employers will harass them, ignore medical instructions, or force them to work under conditions that could impair the healing process or cause more harm."

OSHA has ordered Metro-North to pay $10,000 in punitive damages to the worker and $8,830 in attorney's fees, and to expunge any adverse references relating to the employee's exercise of his FRSA rights from his personnel, safety, and department files. Metro-North also must post an OSHA notice for employees in the Harmon Diesel Shop and on its internal website, and provide all diesel shop employees with information on employee protections for reporting work-related injuries.

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