OSHA Testing Expedited Processing of Whistleblower Claims
The department acknowledged that OSHA's investigation process can take time and complainants may be able to receive a determination more quickly without losing their rights to a hearing by electing to expedite OSHA's processing of their claims.
A new pilot process is being tried out in DOL's Western region: Expedited Case Processing Pilot allows a complainant covered by certain statutes to ask OSHA to halt its whistleblower investigation and issue findings for DOL's Office of Administrative Law Judges to consider. This is possible only if the case meets certain criteria, and ALJs may order the same remedies as OSHA, including back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages where authorized, attorneys' fees, and reinstatement, according to the announcement.
The department acknowledged in it that OSHA's investigation process can take time and complainants may be able to receive a determination more quickly without losing their rights to a hearing by electing to expedite OSHA's processing of their claims. "The ultimate goal is to bring about quicker resolution for whistleblowers and their employers regarding claims of retaliation for reporting safety and other concerns on the job," said Barbara Goto, OSHA's regional administrator in San Francisco.
The pilot became effective Aug. 1 in the agency's San Francisco region, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and the islands of American Samoa, CNMI and Guam.
Once a complainant requests expedited processing, the case will be assessed for these criteria:
- The claim is filed under a statute that allows for de novo review by an ALJ.
- Depending on the statute, 30 or 60 days have passed from the date the complainant first filed with the claim with OSHA.
- OSHA has interviewed the complainant.
- Federal investigators have evaluated the complaint and the interview to determine whether basic elements of a retaliation claim exist.
- Both the complainant and the respondent have had the opportunity to submit written responses, meet with an OSHA investigator, and present statements from witnesses.
- The complainant has received a copy of the respondent's submissions and had an opportunity to respond.
Once OSHA officials determine the criteria are met, they will evaluate the claim to determine whether reasonable cause exists to believe a violation of the statute occurred and take one of three actions: dismiss the claim and inform the complainant of the right to proceed before an ALJ; issue merit findings as expeditiously as possible; or deny the request.