Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway must reinstate injured conductor and pay $536K in damages for retaliation

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OSHA finds railroad violated federal whistleblower protections

SEATTLE -- North America's second-largest freight railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, must reinstate a train conductor and pay the man $536,063 in back pay, damages and attorney's fees after a federal investigation found the rail operator retaliated against its employee after reporting a knee injury.

BNSF filed disciplinary charges against the conductor after he reported the injury, which occurred in November 2010 while en route from Vancouver to Pasco. The employee filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA in February 2011. Company officials fired him in August 2011 despite knowing that his injury report was protected by law.

U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators determined the railroad violated federal laws protecting whistleblowers. After an investigation, OSHA ordered the reinstatement and financial compensation.

'Disciplining an employee for reporting an injury is illegal,' said Ken Atha, regional administrator for OSHA's Seattle office. 'Those who do so face negative repercussions. Retaliatory actions can discourage other workers from speaking up, which may result in an unsafe work environment.'

In addition to paying punitive and compensatory damages, OSHA ordered BNSF to rehire the employee and expunge his record of all charges and disciplinary action. The company must also conduct training for supervisors and managers on employee whistleblower rights and post a notice to employees of their whistleblower rights.

Both the employee and the railroad have 30 days from receipt of OSHA's findings to file objections and request a hearing before the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.

With 38,000 employees, BNSF operates more than 7,000 locomotives and 32,500 miles of track.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower 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, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.

Under 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 employee rights information is available online 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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