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Company Award Over Employee Health and Safety

OSHA-Federal-Railroad-Safety-Act-violationsIt appears that some employers may be more concerned about awards than the safety of their employees. The case involving Norfolk Southern Corp. certainly raises that question. A former employee was terminated in 2009 after he reported an on-the-job injury.

The (OSHA) Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined Norfolk Southern was in violation of the employee’s protections under the whistle-blower provisions regarding the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

Norfolk Southern was ordered to pay the former employee $122,199 in compensatory and punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees. On May 13, 2009 the former employee was hurt pulling a spike from a rail line. “Fearing loss of employment, the worker did not report the injury until a re-injury occurred in October when, at the suggestion of management, the employee saw a doctor,” according to an OSHA news release. “After returning to work, the employee was suspended and later terminated for allegedly falsifying the injury.”

“Every American worker has the right to report an injury without fear of retaliation or intimidation,” according to Cindy A. Coe the Atlanta regional OSHA Administrator. It was reported Norfolk Southern declined comment due to litigation. OSHA further stated, the employer Norfolk Southern “also successfully intimidated other employees from reporting on-the-job injuries,””This ‘chilling effect’ allowed Norfolk Southern to maintain the appearance of an exemplary safety record and continue its 22-consecutive-year record as recipient of the E.H. Harriman Gold Medal Rail Safety Award,”

This award had been given to Norfolk Southern in May 2010 for having ironically the best employee-safety record involving the biggest line-haul railroads. Norfolk Southern was ordered to pay the former employee compensatory damages, pain and suffering; reasonable attorney’s fees; and $75,000 in punitive damages. OSHA viewed the company as reckless and it disregarded the former employees rights under the federal safety act.

The OSHA order also meant Norfolk Southern be required to expunge the disciplinary record of the former worker and to post notice accessible to employees about whistle-blower protection rights under federal law. What’s amazing to me is the ease of disregard some employers have toward the safety of employees and respect for the law. Many employers count on employee ignorance and fear in the workplace. Employees can remove this weapon from their bosses arsenal by learning their employee workplace rights.

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