Recently released statistics show a surge in employee complaints of retaliation for blowing the whistle on their employers’ wrongdoing. But they also show that the federal agency charged with investigating such allegations finds few that have merit.
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics, the agency received 2,787 complaints of whistleblower retaliation in fiscal 2012. OSHA investigates whistleblower claims filed under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and 21 other federal laws. In the vast majority of the cases (1,706), employees alleged retaliation after reporting OSHA health and safety violations. But the agency also received complaints of retaliation from employees who reported financial improprieties under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, environmental violations, and airline and transportation safety lapses, among others. (Most whistleblower cases under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act go directly to federal court and therefore are not included in the statistics).
Dealing with meritless cases is one concern, but employers also must be cognizant of the potential costs of a whistleblower case that results in an OSHA-imposed penalty. Those judgments can include reinstatement of the whistleblower, which can be disruptive to the business, and large monetary awards.