Amid a global pandemic, workers are calling on worker safety laws to protect them against unsafe work environments. In particular, the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which is the primary federal law requiring a safe work environment.
In an article published today by the National Law Review, whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn discusses the highly criticized law and the reforms needed to ensure worker safety as they return to work amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Kohn, who is a partner at the qui tam law firm Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto and Chairman of the Board of Directors at the National Whistleblower Center, explained how thousands of OSHA complaints are piling up due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Under OSHA, employees can refuse to perform work that could result in ‘serious injury or death.’ But Labor Department rules give wide discretion to the Secretary of Labor to interpret this ‘right.’ Any aggressive ‘back to work’ policy implemented by the Trump administration would radically diminish the ability of workers to protect themselves,” Kohn explains.
According to Kohn, the reforms needed to make OSHA’s whistleblower law, §11(c), work to protect workplace whistleblowers are:
Enlarge the statute of limitations from 30-days to 180-days;
create a private right of action enabling whistleblowers who are subjected to retaliation to enforce their rights;
modernize §11(c) consistent with all of the modern whistleblower laws.
“Front line health and safety workers need OSHA to be an effective law for worker safety,” Kohn says. “While they risk their health daily by treating patients sick from the coronavirus pandemic, the current federal law designed to protect their safety does not work. No worker should ever have to choose between their job and becoming sick from COVID-19.”