US Labor Department orders 2 subsidiaries of Canadian National Railway
to pay 2 workers more than $260,000 in back pay and damages
CHICAGO – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered two subsidiaries of Canadian National Railway to pay over $263,000 in back wages, interest, attorney's fees, compensatory and punitive damages to two employees who were disciplined for reporting work-related injuries, which is in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. One employee will also be reinstated to his position.
The employees worked for Illinois Central Railroad Co. and Wisconsin Central Ltd., wholly-owned subsidiaries of Canadian National Railway, which is headquartered in Montreal and provides rail service throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Canada.
"An employer does not have the right to retaliate against employees who report work-related injuries," said Nick Walters, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago. "When workers can't report safety concerns on the job without fear of retaliation, worker safety and health suffer, which costs working families and businesses."
An OSHA investigation upheld the allegations of a Wisconsin Central Ltd. conductor, who was terminated from employment in retaliation for reporting his work-related injury. The employee was hired as a conductor trainee in October 2011 and was injured the following month while working a night shift at the Fond du Lac, Wis., rail yard. He reported the injury at the end of his shift. Upon being cleared to return to work, the employee was terminated by Wisconsin Central for not formerly reporting his injury immediately after it occurred.
Wisconsin Central Ltd. was ordered to reinstate the conductor, pay $85,170 in lost wages and interest, and $100,000 in punitive damages. The company must also remove disciplinary information from the employee's personnel record and provide whistle-blower rights information to its employees.
An OSHA investigation also upheld the allegations of an Illinois Central Railroad Co. engineer, who was disciplined with a 20-day deferred suspension after reporting an injury that occurred in the company's Urbana Yard in March 2011. The engineer strained his lower back while securing a hand brake on a locomotive. He reported the injury to his supervisor three hours later, after his back began to stiffen while waiting for clearance to complete his next movement in the yard. The company's investigation alleged the engineer violated policy by delaying the injury report.
Illinois Central Railroad Co. has been ordered to pay the worker $100,000 in punitive damages, as well as $5,000 in compensatory damages. The company must also remove disciplinary information from the employee's personnel record and provide whistle-blower rights information to its employees.
The punitive damages for each case were $100,000 because both subsidiaries were repeat offenders for violating the FRSA.
In each case, either party may file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
On July 16, 2012, OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration signed a memorandum of agreement to facilitate coordination and cooperation for enforcing the FRSA's whistle-blower provisions. Between August 2007, when OSHA was assigned responsibility for whistle-blower complaints under the FRSA, and September 2012, OSHA received more than 1,200 FRSA whistle-blower complaints. The number of whistle-blower complaints that OSHA currently receives under the FRSA surpasses the number it receives under any of the other 21 whistle-blower protection statutes it enforces, except for Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. More than 60 percent of the FRSA complaints filed with OSHA involve an allegation that a railroad worker has been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.
OSHA enforces the whistle-blower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
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 to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistle-blower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistle-blower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
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Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistle-blower complaints.
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U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille, audio tape or disc from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.