Whistleblower Complaints, You, and OSHA

When an employee notices that something is amiss in the workplace, he may choose to file a “whistleblower” complaint with the appropriate authorities. Sometimes a concern has already been brought to the attention of management, but was not acted upon, or an employee may fear repercussions should he or she bring that complaint to their boss in the first place. While whistleblower situations are varied and complex, we’re going to go over the basics in this blog post, with particular attention to registering a complaint with OSHA.

Whistleblower Protections

In order to protect whistleblowers from vindictive action on the part of their employers, whistleblower laws are in place at multiple levels in most states and industries. OSHA is the federal level of whistleblower protection, and provides employees not only with a platform to voice complaints, but also with an act prohibiting an employer from penalizing or terminating an employee because of their complaint(s).

Whistleblower Procedures

When filing a whistleblower complaint, it is important to take advantage of the procedures set in place where you work. Different states have different laws, and you will likely be required to register your complaint at the state level. Be as detailed as possible and make sure that everything you write accurately conveys your feelings and version of events – think about how you would tell someone about the incident in person, and then make sure your writing communicates this.

How to File a Whistleblower Complaint

Unfortunately, some employers may take punitive action against a whistleblower even when they know they aren’t supposed to. In this case, you will need to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA within 30 days of your knowledge of the actions being taken against you. Recently, OSHA launched its online page for whistleblower complaints, a 30 field form which lets you quickly fill in employee details, employer details, details of who the complaint is aimed at, and also the specifics of what action was taken against you.

Any retaliatory action taken as a result of whistleblowing is taken seriously by OSHA and they will usually evaluate your complaint in a timely manner. If you wish to submit your complaint in another format, complaints can be hand delivered to an OSHA office or sent via mail; complaints may also be submitted in any language.

Additional Notes

– You do not have to be an employee to file a whistleblower complaint; independent contractors, delivery people, etc. may file such a complaint even for a business they don’t directly work for. You can even just be a customer or observer.

– Whistleblower submissions are not to be used in emergencies. For anything immediately life-threatening or dangerous, OSHA operates a toll free number at 1-800-321-6742. Alternatively, you can also contact local emergency services as the severity of the situation dictates.

– There is a statute of limitations on any whistleblower complaint submitted to OSHA. Usually this is 30 days, but this is subject to change given different conditions. For complaints submitted via mail, the post marked date will serve as the date submitted (meaning mailing time could potentially impact the validity of your complaint if you wait too long to submit it).

– Be honest. While you want to tell your side of the story, do not embellish or fabricate details in your report. If, while writing the complaint, you feel like you’ll have to stretch a bit to make your complaint legitimate, this may be a sign that you should take your concerns to someone else before filing an official complain.

– Because a whistleblower complaint can mean involvement in a long process for you and possibly serious sanctions for your employer, it is always preferable to try and work things out face to face before filing. Unfortunately, both parties may not be amicable to an easy fix in some situations and in these cases your best bet is to move ahead with your complaint as quickly as possible.

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