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Discrimination Against Employees Who Exercise Their Safety and Health Rights

Workers have the right to complain to OSHA and seek an OSHA inspection. Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 authorizes OSHA to investigate employee complaints of employer discrimination against employees who are involved in safety and health activities protected under the Act. OSHA also is responsible for enforcing whistleblower protection under ten other laws. OSHA Area Office staff can explain the protections under these laws and the deadlines for filing complaints. Workers in the 23 states operating OSHA-approved State Plans may file complaints of employer discrimination with the state plan as well. State and local government workers in these states (and three others with public employee only state plans) may file complaints of employer discrimination with the state.

Some examples of discrimination are firing, demotion, transfer, layoff, losing opportunity for overtime or promotion, exclusion from normal overtime work, assignment to an undesirable shift, denial of benefits such as sick leave or vacation time, blacklisting with other employers, taking away company housing, damaging credit at banks or credit unions and reducing pay or hours.

Refusing to do a job because of potentially unsafe workplace conditions is not ordinarily an employee right under the OSH Act. (Your union contract or state law may, however, give you this right, but OSHA cannot enforce it.) Refusing to work may result in disciplinary action by your employer. However, employees have the right to refuse to do a job if they otherwise would be exposed to an imminent danger that poses the risk of death or serious injury. In order to be protected under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, an employee must satisfy several criteria before he or she refuses to perform a job.

If you believe your employer has treated you differently because you exercised your safety and health rights, contact your local OSHA Office right away. Most discrimination complaints fall under the OSH Act, which gives you only
30 days to report discrimination.

You can telephone, fax or mail your complaint. OSHA conducts an in-depth interview with each complainant to determine the need for an investigation. If evidence supports the worker's claim of discrimination, OSHA will ask the employer to restore the worker's job, earnings and benefits. If the employer objects, OSHA may take the employer to court to seek relief for the worker.


Laws with Whistleblower Protections Administered by OSHA
  • The Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970
  • The Surface Transportation Assistance Act
  • The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
  • The International Safety Container Act
  • The Energy Reorganization Act
  • The Clean Air Act
  • The Safe Drinking Water Act
  • The Federal Water Pollution Control Act
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act
  • The Solid Waste Disposal Act
  • The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
  • The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century
  • Corporate and Criminal Fraud Accountability Act of 2002
  • Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002

 
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