NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — For the third time since 2011, the Union Pacific Railroad has violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act at its yard in North Platte by disciplining employees who reported workplace injuries and sought medical attention, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found. Since 2001, the company has faced more than 200 whistleblower complaints nationwide.
In the most recent case, OSHA investigators determined that Union Pacific disciplined a 35-year-employee after the locomotive freight engineer reported injuries sustained in a Dec. 22, 2013 collision and received medical attention. The company has been ordered to pay the engineer $350,000 in punitive and compensatory damages and reasonable attorney's fees, remove disciplinary information from the employee's personnel record and provide information about whistleblower rights to all its employees. Prior to this incident, the employee had never been disciplined.
"It is disheartening that this employee, a loyal railroad worker for 35 years, faced disciplinary action because he sought needed medical attention for a work-related injury. Union Pacific's actions and the repeated complaints filed by their employees are indicative of a culture that doesn't show that same loyalty to their workers or concern for their safety," said Marcia P. Drumm, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo. "Whistleblower protections play an important role in keeping workplaces safe. It is not only illegal to discipline an employee for reporting an injury and seeking medical attention, it puts everyone at risk."
Any of the parties in this case can file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
Based in Omaha, Union Pacific Corporation is one of America's leading transportation companies. Its principal operating company, Union Pacific Railroad, is North America's premier railroad franchise, in 23 states across the western two-thirds of the United States. It has 47,000 employees and operates 8,000 locomotives over 32,000 route miles.
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, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, 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 Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower 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 https://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 whistleblower complaints.