On Thursday, July 19, 2012, the United States Department of Labor announced that two railroads – Illinois Central Railroad and Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad – in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”) by terminating workers who reported workplace safety violations to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”). The FRSA protects railroad employee whistleblowers from such retaliation by railroads. Retaliation may include everything from termination to denying benefits and vacation, intimidating the employee, demoting the employee, reducing pay or hours, and so forth. For a complete list of violations under the FRSA, click here. The railroads in these incidents have been ordered to pay back over $650,000 in back wages and damages to three employees.

The FRSA protects railroad employees as whistleblowers who report workplace safety violations. A whistleblower has 180 days from the date of the alleged violation/incident to file a claim with OSHA against the railroad. If, after completing its investigation, OSHA determines that there was a violation, the following types of relief may be awarded: (1) reinstatement to one’s position with same benefits and seniority at the time of termination, (2) back pay with interest, (3) compensatory damages, including expert witness and attorney’s fees, and (4) punitive damages with a maximum of $250,000.

OSHA protects workers by holding employers responsible for ensuring and maintaining safe workplaces and that employees are informed of the potential hazards and protections available on the job. From 2007 to the present, OSHA has received over 900 complaints from whistleblowers under the FRSA, 63% of which involved a claim that a railroad employee had reported an on-the-job, injury.

For more information, see Doran & Murphy’s discussion of railroad worker injuries. If you are a railroad employee or a loved of a railroad employee who has been injured on the job, contact us for more information about your legal rights and the investigative process.