The National Employment Law Project (NELP) report’s findings highlight how OSHA is handling reports of retaliation against COVID whistleblowers.
The NELP analyzed OSHA’s public data on the 1,744 COVID-19-related retaliation complaints filed by workers from the beginning of the pandemic through August 9.
The report found that over half of the complaints – 54% – were dismissed or closed without investigation. Just 1 in 5 complaints were docketed for investigations, and a total of only 2% of complaints were resolved in the period.
The report also highlights that OSHA’s failure to protect whistleblowers has a disproportionate impact on Black workers. According to an earlier NELP report, Black workers are more likely than white workers to work under repressive and hazardous conditions. This earlier report found that Black workers are twice as likely as white workers to have faced retaliation from an employer and to have unresolved COVID-related concerns at work.
The NELP report argues that whistleblower legislation for OSHA needs to be strengthened. As the report notes, a majority of whistleblower laws passed in the past 20 years, such as the Dodd-Frank Act and the Surface Transportation and Assistance Act, contain much stronger whistleblower protections. Steps suggested by the NELP to remedy OSHA’s ineffectiveness include: establishing a private right of action, extending the deadline to file a complaint, revising the burden of proof, and increasing funding for the agency.
The report states it is “unacceptable that workers who filed COVID-19-related whistleblower complaints with the OSHA during the first six months of the coronavirus crisis—alleging employer retaliation for exercising their workplace health and safety rights—received scant support from the agency tasked with their protection.”