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Railroad ordered to take corrective actions and pay $300,000 in punitive damages (6/22)

Whistleblower investigations by OSHA have found that the Metro North Commuter Railroad Co. retaliated against four employees who reported work-related injuries. OSHA has ordered the railroad, which provides commuter rail service in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, to take corrective actions and pay back wages, fees and a total of $300,000 in punitive damages.

"Railroad employees have the right to report occupational injuries and illnesses without fear that doing so will negatively affect their jobs, their health or their income," said Jordan Barab, acting U.S. assistant secretary of labor for safety and health. "Retaliating against employees for exercising this basic, legally protected workplace right is unacceptable."

The employees, who sustained on-the-job injuries in 2007 and 2008, filed whistleblower complaints with OSHA alleging that the railroad disciplined them for reporting their injuries, interfered with their medical treatment plans and/or reclassified injuries from occupational to non-occupational. OSHA's investigations, conducted under the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), found merit to the complaints.

As a result of its findings, OSHA has ordered Metro North to take corrective actions including expunging disciplinary actions and references to them from various records; compensating the workers for lost wages or out-of-pocket medical expenses and attorneys' fees; amending its attendance policy so that work-related sick leave not be considered when assessing unsatisfactory attendance or transfer or promotion requests; ensuring that reporting occupational illnesses or injuries does not disqualify employees from transfers or promotions; and paying each complainant $75,000 in punitive damages. The railroad must also post and provide its employees with information on their FRSA whistleblower rights.

Metro North and the complainants have 30 days from receipt of the findings to file an appeal with the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. Under the FRSA, employees of a railroad carrier and its contractors and subcontractors are protected against retaliation for reporting on-the-job injuries as well as reporting certain safety and security violations and cooperating with investigations by OSHA and other regulatory agencies.

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