OSHA Issues Food Industry Whistle-Blower Protections

By Roy Maurer Feb 17, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new whistle-blower protections and established new procedures for handling retaliation complaints for food industry workers as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The interim final rule was published in the Feb. 13, 2014, Federal Register.

The act was signed into law January 4, 2011, and called for protection against retaliation of employees engaged in “the manufacture, processing, packing, transporting, distribution, reception, holding, or importation of food” from reporting food safety violations or testifying in a proceeding about a violation.

The act’s whistle-blower provisions include procedures that allow a covered employee to file a complaint within 180 days of the alleged retaliation. Upon receipt of the complaint, OSHA will provide written notice to the person or persons named in the complaint of the filing, the allegations contained in the complaint, the substance of the evidence supporting the complaint, and the rights afforded the respondent throughout the investigation. Within 60 days of receipt of the complaint, the complainant and respondent will have an opportunity to submit a response, meet with an investigator to present statements from witnesses, and conduct an investigation.

If OSHA finds there is reasonable cause to believe that retaliation occurred, the accused company will face a preliminary order requiring it to: take affirmative action to abate the violation; reinstate the complainant to his former position together with the compensation of that position (including back pay) and restore the terms, conditions, and privileges associated with his employment; and provide compensatory damages to the complainant, as well as all costs and expenses (including attorney fees and expert witness fees).

Both parties will have 30 days to file objections to the findings or preliminary order and request an additional hearing. A final order will be issued within 120 days of that final hearing.

Employers should review their whistle-blower and anti-retaliation policies, which should include a clear internal complaint process and supervisor training on how to handle employee claims.

In December 2013, OSHA announced an online complaint form as an expedited way to report retaliation. Detailed information on employee whistle-blower rights, including fact sheets and instructions on how to submit the form is available at www.whistleblowers.gov.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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