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New Rules on Whistleblower Retaliation for Nuclear and Environmental Complaints

On January 18, 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a rule establishing procedures for handling nuclear and environmental whistleblower retaliation complaints. This rule aligns retaliation complaints under the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA) of 1974 and the six environmental statutes with other OSHA whistleblower provisions. The rule allows employees to file oral or written complaints in English and other languages, making complaint filing more accessible to all employees.

The ERA provision serves to protect employees who are retaliated against in response to their report of nuclear safety violations. If employees have engaged in a protected activity relating to workplace safety and health, and their employers retaliate by taking an unfavorable personnel action, then the employees may file a complaint with OSHA. Complaints must be filed within 180 days from the date on which the discriminatory decision was communicated.

The rule comes as the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its report suggesting that the whistleblower program does not effectively train investigators to thoroughly address complaints. The GAO’s criticisms were the catalyst for a strategic plan to improve the program by developing effective steps toward addressing such complaints.

“Silenced workers are not safe workers,” noted OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. He suggests that these changes in the whistleblower provisions satisfy the promise to stand by workers who have the courage to come forward when they believe a violation in an environmental or nuclear safety law has occurred.

Workers are considered to be engaging in “protected activities” when they:

  • Report violations of safety procedures;
  • Reveal “potential quality assurance problems”;
  • Complain about practices that violate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) requirements to keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievable; and
  • Refuse to engage in a practice that is unlawful under NRC rules.

Workplace safety is a right that all workers are entitled to, and protecting these rights are of critical importance. If you have questions about your rights in reporting violations, contact an attorney experienced in workplace injury cases at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P.

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