The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notified several employers recently that they must reinstate employees who were fired in retaliation for their whistleblower actions. These companies must also provide back pay, pay the employee’s attorneys fees and pay compensatory damages.
In one case, the employee worked for a trucking company. He notified management of a driver who was transporting explosive materials in a manner considered unsafe and against federal regulations. The company fired him within a week of his whistleblowing. By firing the employee, OSHA said the company violated the whistleblower protections in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).
In another case, the employee was terminating for reporting inaccuracies in the company’s customer information assessment system. These inaccuracies were significant enough to have material impact on the financial reporting for the company. Because Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) protects employees against retaliation and retribution for financial whistleblower actions for public companies, OSHA ruled that the company must reinstate the employee. OSHA enforces the whistleblower protections listed in over 20 statutes, including SOX and STAA.
Companies that develop ethics policies and provide ethics training can prevent situations like this by informing managers that they are forbidden to retaliate against those who report malfeasance. Companies can also reduce the likelihood of retaliation and retribution by implementing an anonymous ethics hotline system. The hotline system gives stakeholders the ability to report concerns and employers the information they need to conduct a thorough investigation. Contact Ethical Advocate for more information on implementing an ethics and compliance program, including ethics training and an ethics hotline.