Employers Reminded Not to Retaliate Against Workers Reporting Unsafe Conditions During COVID-19 Pandemic

OSHA has reminded employers that it is illegal to retaliate against workers because they report unsafe and unhealthful working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health concerns in a variety of businesses and industries, including printing operations.

An employer cannot take an adverse action against employees for engaging in activities protected by OSHA’s whistleblower laws. An adverse action is an action which would dissuade a reasonable employee from raising a concern about a possible violation or engaging in other related protected activity. Retaliation can have a negative impact on overall employee morale.

Because an adverse action can be subtle, it may not always be easy to spot. Examples of adverse actions include, but are not limited to:

• Firing or laying off
• Demoting
• Denying overtime or promotion
• Disciplining
• Denying benefits
• Failing to hire or rehire
• Intimidation or harassment
• Making threats
• Reassignment to a less desirable position or actions affecting prospects for promotion (such as excluding an employee from training meetings)
• Reducing pay or hours
• More subtle actions, such as isolating, ostracizing, mocking, or falsely accusing the employee of poor performance
• Blacklisting (intentionally interfering with an employee’s ability to obtain future employment)
• Constructive discharge (quitting when an employer makes working conditions intolerable due to the employee's protected activity)

OSHA has set a process where employees can file a whistleblower complaint online or call them at 1-800-321-OSHA if they believe their employer has retaliated against them for exercising their rights under the whistleblower protection laws.

OSHA has developed some guidance that employers can follow to create workplaces in which workers feel comfortable voicing their concerns without fear of retaliation. There are five key elements to creating an effective anti-retaliation program or enhancing an existing one and OSHA ‘s guidance document, Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Programs, explains the elements.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program webpage provides valuable resources on worker rights, including fact sheets on whistleblower protections for employees in various industries and frequently asked questions.

For more information please contact the Government Affairs Department at govtaffairs@sgia.org.