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The New OSHA Whistleblower Complaint Form

Whistleblowers can now file a complaint more quickly and easily than ever.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently implemented an online form that allows whistleblowers to submit complaints over the Internet.  With this form, whistleblowers can submit complaints to OSHA almost instantaneously.

The new form has 30 questions.  This allows an employee to convey significant detail about the complaint to OSHA as part of the initial filing.  To make the process even easier, however, only a few of the questions are mandatory.  While basic questions such as the name and contact information of the employee, the name of the employer, and the alleged unlawful conduct must be completed, most of the other questions are optional.  An employee is free to go into as much or as little depth about the alleged violations as he or she chooses.  OSHA can then follow up with the employee to get more information.  The employee need not even be the one to fill out the form.  An “authorized representative” of the employee can fill out the form on the employee’s behalf, as long as the representative identifies him or herself in a specially-designated section of the form.

This development continues the trend of increased protection and ease of submission for whistleblowers.  It is just one more reminder that we live in the Internet age which allows complaint processes to get easier and easier.  Something that would have taken hours or days in the past can now be completed in minutes – any time of day or night – and be submitted in seconds.  Busy employees may not have time to draft a letter or go down to an OSHA office to report a violation, but they can now file a complaint during a break or after work.

Given the increasing ease with which whistleblowers can submit complaints and the high cost of defense, employers should ensure they are in full compliance with all legal obligations.  Of almost equal importance, is the need to manage employee perceptions and positive employee relations.  If an employee thinks the company is violating the law or the employee has an ax to grind based on perceived poor treatment, it is easy to “get even” by becoming a whistleblower.  On the other hand, employers should not let this development deter them from terminating a weak employee.  If an employee deserves to be terminated, and you have documented his or her poor performance, don’t let the threat of whistleblowing stop you.  Employers should strike a balance – recognize the risk from unwarranted whistleblowers while not being “held hostage” by a problem employee.

Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on matters involving OSHA and OSHA compliance.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.