March 10, 2021
US Department of Labor orders one of the nation's largest railway companies
to pay more than $290K in damages, reinstate whistleblower
FORT WORTH, TX – An employee of one of the nation's largest North American freight railroad networks will receive more than $290,000 in back pay, damages and fees, and be reinstated to their job after the U.S. Department of Labor found the worker's rights were violated under the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
BNSF Railway Co. accused the employee of violating a doctor's restrictions against physical activity following a work-related injury. When the employee provided documents during a subsequent hearing to prove that his doctor allowed physical activity, the company ignored the documents and fired him.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that BNSF violated federal law and ordered the railway to reinstate the worker, and pay back wages, attorney's fees and compensatory damages. OSHA also assessed $150,000 in punitive damages.
"Federal law ensures that employees who report work-related injuries and follow the instructions of their treating physicians are protected from their employer's adverse actions," said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric Harbin in Dallas. "The department's order underscores its commitment to enforcing whistleblower rights that ultimately protect workers and the public."
The company and the employee may file objections or request a hearing, within 30 days of receipt of OSHA's order, before the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
Headquartered in Fort Worth, BNSF operates on a 32,500-mile rail network across 28 states and three Canadian provinces. The 170-year-old company, which now consists of nearly 400 railroad lines, is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of 25 whistleblower statutes protecting employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities and tax laws, and for engaging in other related protected activities. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
# # #
Release Number: 21-370-DAL
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The department's Reasonable Accommodation Resource Center converts departmental information and documents into alternative formats, which include Braille and large print. For alternative format requests, please contact the department at (202) 693-7828 (voice) or (800) 877-8339 (federal relay).