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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set a record for the number of whistle-blower cases it investigated in fiscal year (FY) 2014.
According to the agency, it accepted 3,060 cases during the year, which is 91 cases (3 percent) more than in FY 2013. OSHA had never broken the 3,000 mark before. By contrast, in 2005, the number of cases was 1,934. OSHA administers the whistle-blower provisions of 22 federal statutes.
The increased caseload could be the result of OSHA’s introduction of online filing for whistle-blower complaints in late 2013. Investigations were temporarily halted during the 16-day federal government shutdown in October 2013, the first month of FY 2014.
OSH Cases Dominate
Safety-related cases claimed by workers citing the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act accounted for 57 percent (1,729) of the total whistle-blower cases, about the same as in 2013.
Rounding out the top three types of cases were 463 brought under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) and 351 under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The numbers represented an increase of 95 and four, respectively, over FY 2013.
The uptick in STAA cases may be the result of a 2014 memorandum of understanding between OSHA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in which the agencies agreed to share information with the complainant and each other.
Three-Fourths of Cases Dismissed, Withdrawn
OSHA completed 3,147 cases in FY 2014. The agency made determinations on 3,271 complaints, with some cases having multiple determinations.
Of the determinations, 51 percent (1,652) of the cases were dismissed by OSHA and 22 percent (710) were withdrawn by the complainant.
Settlements between the employer and worker were reached in 24 percent (746) of the complaints.
Three percent of the cases (99) were withdrawn by the complainant and refiled in federal court.
Two percent (64) of the complaints were given a “merit” determination, meaning that when a worker and employer couldn’t agree to a settlement, OSHA decided a judge should hear the complaint.
OSHA is working to lower the burden of proof in opening whistle-blower investigations from a “preponderance of the evidence” to a “reasonable cause,” OSHA administrator David Michaels told the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee in September 2014. OSHA and the Office of the Solicitor of Labor are working on the policy change and it should be completed in 2015, he told the panel.
Michaels has also recommended that Congress extend the complaint filing deadline to 180 days instead of the current 30 days.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him @SHRMRoy
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