railwayMetro-North Commuter Railroad Co. – a company whose safety culture was criticized by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) after a fatal train derailment in the Bronx in December -- is in trouble with the feds again.

OSHA investigations have determined that the company violated the anti-discrimination provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act between 2011 and 2013 when it disciplined seven Connecticut employees for following their physicians' instructions.

"Metro-North's policy of making employees ignore a treating physician's medical instructions or face discipline is unacceptable," said Robert B. Hooper, OSHA's acting regional administrator for New England. "While Metro-North says it has since changed this policy, this type of procedure, which endangers employees and the public and is illegal under the FRSA, should not exist."

OSHA's investigations found that, between 2011 and 2013, the employees with duty stations in New Haven or Stamford, were issued written warnings under the railroad's attendance policy when they each followed the orders of their physician to stay out of work. Five were carmen, one an electrician and one a foreman. The FRSA prohibits railroad carriers from disciplining or threatening to discipline employees who follow a physician's orders or treatment plan.

The employees filed complaints with OSHA, which found merit to the complaints, and ordered Metro-North to pay each employee $1,000 in compensatory damages and reasonable attorneys' fees. The railroad must also expunge the written warnings from each employee's personnel record and post a workplace notice informing employees of their FRSA anti-discrimination rights. Either party in these cases can file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 21 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

These laws, enacted by Congress, prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed employee rights information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.