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OSHA orders Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to pay over $300,000 to suspended whistleblower

SEATTLE – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. to pay an employee more than $300,000 representing back wages, compensatory damages, attorney's fees and punitive damages.

The employee filed a complaint with OSHA, alleging that she was suspended without pay for 30 days after notifying the company of a work-related injury. OSHA's investigation substantiated the allegation and found reasonable cause to believe that the railroad had retaliated against the worker in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act's whistleblower protection provisions.

"The Federal Railroad Safety Act forbids railroad companies from disciplining employees for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses," said Dean Ikeda, OSHA's regional administrator in Seattle. "This case sends a clear message that OSHA will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers. Employees need to be able to report on-the-job injuries without fear of reprisal."

The employee reported a work-related injury and was taken to an emergency room for treatment. BNSF managers followed the employee to the hospital and received an injury report, but BNSF later accused the employee of failing to furnish adequate information about the injury. The employee was suspended and also assessed 40 points under the company's personal performance index. OSHA's investigation determined that the assignment of 40 points was not based on the complainant violating a safety regulation or rule, but instead on the complainant having a reportable injury.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 21 laws protecting employees who report violations of various securities, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, workplace safety and health, consumer product safety, health care reform and financial reform laws. Under these laws enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

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