Report urges collaboration between government agencies on whistleblower cases

By Clarissa Hawes, Land Line staff writer | Monday, April 14, 2014

A new report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office urges the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to coordinate efforts to define agencies’ roles when investigating potential transportation-related safety issues reported by whistleblowers.

According to the GAO report, the number of transportation-related whistleblower claims filed with OSHA has increased from 508 in 2008 to 821 in 2013.

The report states that OSHA is responsible for investigating whistleblower claims under 22 statutes, including six statutes that contain protections for employees in transportation industries that are regulated by DOT.

While OSHA has developed memorandums of agreement or MOAs, establishing a reporting process on whistleblower reporting issues with federal agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration, the agency is still in the process of “developing an MOA with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to cover commercial drivers and other motor carrier employees.”

The report states that MOAs must be developed that clearly define agency roles and responsibilities, including developing training on whistleblower issues and regional coordination.

Currently, since the agencies have not developed MOAs, the GAO report states there are no way to assess whether the referral process for transportation-related whistleblower claims is working.

The GAO report recommended that both OSHA and DOT evaluate “their current and in-process MOAs and incorporate key practices for collaboration.”

OSHA is also in the process of establishing whistleblower protections for auto industry employees as required under the current highway law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21.

OSHA has developed a whistleblowers website for employees who feel they have been retaliated against by their employer for reporting a protected activity.

Recently, OSHAordered a Washington-based trucking company to compensate a truck driver who was suspended, then fired, for refusing to drive while ill.

OSHA has ordered Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. of Auburn, Wash., to stop “retaliating against workers who refuse to drive trucks while too ill or fatigued to safely operate vehicles at its facilities.”

OSHA determined that Oak Harbor suspended a driver without pay indefinitely and then fired the driver in September 2010 after he notified the company that he was ill and “taking a prescribed narcotic cough suppressant.”

The former driver filed a whistleblower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, or STAA.

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