Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has once again been found guilty of retaliating against a worker who reported a work-related injury – which is creating a chilling effect in the railroad industry, according to OSHA.
In the company’s latest violation of the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, a Chattanooga-based employee reported an injury when he hit his hard hat against a horizontal support beam. After conducting an investigative hearing, the railroad charged the employee with falsifying his injury and subsequently terminated him.
The employee appealed, and a Public Law Board upheld the railroad's decision while reducing the termination to a suspension with no back pay. OSHA found that the railroad's investigative hearing was severely flawed and orchestrated to intentionally support management's decision to terminate the employee.
OSHA has ordered the company to pay the affected employee more than $300,000 in damages, including $200,000 in punitive damages, $75,000 in compensatory damages and $25,123.40 in attorney's fees. Additionally, the company must expunge the disciplinary record of the employee as well as post a notice regarding employees' whistleblower protection rights under the FRSA and provide training to its employees about these rights.
This case follows several other orders issued by the department to Norfolk Southern Railway Co. in the past year
OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration have signed a memorandum of agreement to facilitate coordination and cooperation between agencies regarding the enforcement of the FRSA's whistleblower provisions. The act protects railroad employees from retaliation when they report safety violations, or work-related personal injuries or illnesses.
Under the agreement, the FRA will refer railroad employees who complain of alleged retaliation to OSHA. OSHA will provide the FRA with copies of the complaints it receives under the FRSA's whistleblower provision, as well as any findings and preliminary orders that OSHA issues. The agencies jointly will develop training to assist FRA enforcement staff in recognizing complaints of retaliation and to assist OSHA enforcement staff in recognizing potential violations of railroad safety regulations revealed during whistleblower investigations.
Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is a major transporter/hauler of coal and other commodities serving every major container port in the eastern United States with connections to western carriers. Its headquarters are in Norfolk, Va., and it employs more than 30,000 union workers.