Responding to OSHA 11(c) Retaliation Charges, Employee Safety Complaints, and Rapid Response Investigations

By Lindsay A. DiSalvo and Beeta B. Lashkari

When OSHA receives a complaint related to worker safety and health or a severe injury report, one action by OSHA is to give the employer an opportunity to respond before it takes the more extreme action of opening an inspection.  In addition, when OSHA receives an allegation of retaliation, it must provide the employer a chance to explain why the adverse employment action of which it is accused was legitimate or did not occur as alleged.  These responses are an opportunity for the employer to avoid an inspection or litigation of a retaliation claim.  A strong response could assuage OSHA’s concerns and resolve the complaint in a favorable manner for the employer.  However, these responses can also create a written record of admissions to which OSHA can hold the employer accountable, and any supporting documentation may be closely scrutinized and used to create liability.

Thus, employers must ensure there is a procedure in place for managing and developing the responses to these situations, and be strategic about the information they share with OSHA in the response.  We are pleased to share the following tips and strategies for how to effectively address such complaints.

Whistleblower Complaints

To start, although OSHA enforces whistleblower standards under 22 different statutes, the agency receives most of its retaliation claims (over 62%) under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. Section 11(c) prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who in good faith attempt to exercise a worker safety-related protected right under the law.

While the vast majority – about 71% – are either dismissed by OSHA or withdrawn by the employee, the sheer number of complaints OSHA receives, and the fact that nearly 30% of them do end in favor of the employee, should be more than motivation for employers to thoroughly address each one filed against them.  This is particularly true because, under Section 11(c), employees can be entitled to substantial remedies, such as Continue reading

“OSHA’s Fatality & Injury Reporting Rule: What We Know After One Year” [Webinar Recording]

On February 11th, Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. Smith of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group delivered a complimentary webinar regarding “OSHA’s New Fatality and Injury Reporting Rule – What We Know Now” as part of the Firm’s 2016 OSHA Webinar Series.

To kick off 2015, OSHA rolled-out a major change to its Fatality & Injury Reporting Rule to require employers to contact OSHA thousands of times more often to report incidents, which means many more inspections.  A year into the new reporting regime now, it seemed like the perfect time to take a look at what is being reported to OSHA and what OSHA is doing with all the new reports.

Participants learned about: Continue reading

OSHA’s New Hospitalization, Amputation, and Fatality Reporting Rule: Time to Add OSHA to Your Speed Dial

By Eric J. Conn and Amanda R. Strainis-Walker

On New Year’s Day 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new serious injury and fatality reporting rule became effective, significantly revising the triggering events for reporting workplace accidents to OSHA under the Agency’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping regulations at 29 C.F.R. 1910.104, et seq.

New Injury and Illness Reporting Rule

The new regulations differ from the long-standing incident reporting rule in four ways:

  1. Lower the threshold for proactively reporting a catastrophic incident from the hospitalization of three or more employees to the hospitalization of a single employee;Reporting 3.JPG
  1. Add amputations (including partial amputations) and loss of an eye to the types of injuries that employers must proactively report;
  1. Introduce an internet portal for employers to submit reportable events; and
  1. Require publication of the reporting events on OSHA’s public website.

Requirements of the New Reporting Rule. The reporting rule has been long-referred to informally as the “Fat-Cat” rule because it requires employers to report to OSHA all incidents that result in an employee fatality (Fat) or a catastrophe (Cat). The new regulation redefines catastrophe. Historically, a catastrophe had been defined as an incident that resulted in the overnight hospitalization for treatment of three or more employees.  The Agency views the new report triggering events as indicative of serious hazards at a workplace. Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels explained that:

“hospitalizations and amputations [are] sentinel events, indicating that serious hazards are likely to be present at a workplace and that an intervention is warranted to protect the other workers at the establishment.”

In addition to lowering the threshold from three to one employee hospitalizations, OSHA also changed the definition of “hospitalization.” Historically, an employee’s overnight hospital stay triggered the reporting requirement. Under the new rule, whether the hospitalization is a reportable event turns not on whether the employee stays overnight, but rather, whether the employee is formally admitted to the “in-patient” service of the hospital or clinic. The visit, however, must involve medical care after the in-patient admission. A hospital visit only for observation or diagnostic testing, even if it involves in-patient admission, does not constitute a reportable event.

The concepts of “formal admission” and “in-patient service” seem to be causing significant confusion in the new rule’s early stages. While OSHA continues to Continue reading