The Occupational Safety and Health Act is the primary federal law which governs occupational health and safety in the private sector and federal government in the United States. Its main goal is to ensure that employers provide employees with an environment free from recognized hazards, like exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions. The Act is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to whom employees may register complaints if they feel their employer is violating the Act.
In addition, the Act prohibits any employer from discharging, retaliating or discriminating against any employee because the worker exercised his or her right to register a complaint with OSHA or to participate in any proceeding related to an OSHA inspection. Your employer may be found to have retaliated against you if your protected activity was a contributing or motivating factor in its decision to take unfavorable personnel action against you. Such actions may include:
• Firing or laying off
• Denying overtime or promotion
• Denying benefits
• Failing to hire or rehire
• Reassignment affecting promotion prospects
• Reducing pay or hours
If you believe that your employer retaliated against you due to your OSHA action, you should file your complaint with your local OSHA office as soon as possible to ensure you file within the legal time limits. OSHA will conduct an in-depth interview with you to determine whether your employer's conduct warrants further investigation.
In the event that the evidence supports the employee's allegation of retaliation and a settlement cannot be reached, OSHA will issue an order requiring the employer to reinstate the employee, pay back wages, restore benefits, and other possible remedies to make the employee whole.
The Act provides a limited right to refuse to work if conditions are hazardous. You may refuse to work under the Act only when you believe that you face death or serious injury, you have tried to get your employer to correct the condition with no way to do the job safely, and the situation is so urgent that you do not have time to eliminate the hazard through regulatory channels such as calling OSHA.
Employees in the transportation industry are specifically protected from retaliation by their employers for refusing to violate or for reporting violations of the Department of Transportation motor carrier safety standards or regulations, or refusing to operate a vehicle because of such violations or because they have a reasonable apprehension of death or serious injury. Similarly, employees of air carriers, their contractors or subcontractors who raise safety concerns or report violations of FAA rules and regulations are protected from retaliation, as are employees of owners and operators of pipelines, their contractors and subcontractors who report violations of pipeline safety rules and regulations. Employees involved in international shipping who report unsafe shipping containers are also protected. In addition, employees of railroad carriers or public transportation agencies, their contractors or subcontractors who report safety or security conditions or violations of federal rules and regulations relating to railroad or public transportation safety or security are protected from retaliation.