For the third time in less than three months, Norfolk Southern has been ordered to pay penalties for illegally firing two workers.
The latest fines levied by OSHA for violating whistleblower protection laws total $932,070.
Additionally, the company has been ordered to expunge the disciplinary records of the whistleblowers, post workplace notices regarding railroad employees' whistleblower protection rights and provide training to its employees about these rights.
Norfolk Southern “continues to retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries and has effectively created a chilling effect in the railroad industry,” according to OSHA.
In June of 2009, a utility switchman in Illinois reported that his shoulder was injured while he was riding a train that derailed during a shove movement of cars.
Norfolk Southern alleged that the employee provided false or conflicting information regarding his injury, even though the investigative hearing and exhibits failed to show any conflict with the switchman reporting this injury. In April 2010, the Special Board of Adjustments reinstated the switchman with back pay, after a total loss of 10 months' wages, of which the company has repaid a portion.
The company also has been ordered to reinstate the switchman to the proper seniority level, with vacation and sick days that would have been earned and credit of 10 months toward a Railroad Retirement Board pension.
OSHA’s investigation also upheld the allegations of a Michigan trackman who had worked at the company for 31 years before being terminated on Aug. 12, 2009, after Norfolk Southern alleged he made false statements regarding his injuries in order to receive time off. The trackman alleged he was injured when vehicle in which he was riding hit a rough patch of road, causing him to strike his head on the roof of the truck, resulting in a diagnosis of whiplash at a local medical facility. OSHA determined that the trackman's injury has caused severe medical problems involving his back, neck and shoulders, which restrict his ability to sit, stand, walk and operate machinery.
The agency’s order requires the company to reinstate the trackman if he is medically released by his physician and passes a functional capacity evaluation, and to pay him a total of $350,632.35, including compensatory damages of $150,000, punitive damages of $150,000, attorney's fees of $32,813.75, and medical and dental expenses in the amount of $17,818.60, which would have been covered by employee health insurance if he had not been terminated. The trackman has been unable to work since July 2009 and collected sick benefits until Jan. 1, 2010, when he began collecting Railroad Disability benefits; thus, back wages have not been ordered.
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 worldwide.