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Railroad Whistleblowers

The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) is a whistleblower statute enacted in 2007 that protects railroad workers from harassment when they are reporting an injury at work or reporting some sort of safety concern.

Under this whistleblower statute, railroad workers are protected against the company trying to harass them, blacklist them, or in any other way discriminate or discipline a railroad worker who engages in certain protected activities. Those protected activities include: reporting a personal injury, refusing to violate any type of safety rule or law, filing a complaint about a safety violation, refusing to work when faced with an unsafe condition, or providing information in an investigation regarding a violation of a particular safety law or rule regarding railroad safety issues.

Whistleblower FRSA FAQs

  1. What does “whistleblower” mean?
  2. What are “protected activities” under the FRSA?
  3. What are the remedies under the whistleblower law?
  4. What is the timeframe for filing a whistleblower claim with OSHA?
  5. Am I protected from retaliation?
  6. Is racial discrimination part of whistleblower protection?
  7. Is the denial of return work physicals protected under whistleblower laws?
  8. Do I need a lawyer that specializes in railroad whistleblower laws?
  9. What is the process for filing a whistleblower claim?

What does “whistleblower” mean?

A whistleblower in the railroad industry is an employee who is aware of his rights to have a safe work environment and who knows what to do to make the railroad responsible for failing to provide that safety.

What are “protected activities” under the FRSA?

These are the protected activities that fall under the protection of whistleblower law:

  • Injuries – notifying the railroad of your own work-related injury or a co-worker’s work injury
  • Safety concerns – reporting hazardous safety or security condition; refusing to violate federal law relating to rail safety; refusing to use or reporting the use of unsafe railroad equipment, tracks or structures.
  • Medical treatment – work-related injury, the railroad can not deny, delay or interfere with medical treatment; for a work related medical condition, the railroad cannot discipline an employee for following the treating doctor’s orders or treatment plan.
  • Fraud or waste of public funds – providing information regarding the fraud, waste or abuse of government funds connected to rail safety or security.

What are the remedies under the whistleblower law?

Under the whistleblower statute, there are different remedies available for the employee when the railroad violates the whistleblower law. The FRSA whistleblower law has the power to force the railroad to give you a “make-whole remedy” which makes the railroad potentially responsible to do the following:

  1. Reinstate you with all your seniority rights;
  2. Pay your back wages with interest;
  3. Pay all your economic losses;
  4. Pay emotional distress damages;
  5. Pay attorney’s fees and costs’
  6. Pay front pay if the Court finds that it is not in your best interest to return to your former position; and
  7. Pay punitive damages up to $250,000.

What is the timeframe for filing a whistleblower claim with OSHA?

Under the whistleblower statute, a railroad worker only has 180 days from the adverse action of the railroad to file an administrative claim with OSHA

If your railroad sends you a letter charging you with a rule violation after you’ve had a personal injury, or reported a safety violation, or failed to return to work because your doctor is telling you that you need to be off, the adverse action is the discipline or charge letter, and that is when your time starts to “toll.” Toll means that the clock is ticking and you only have 180 days (6 months) to file an administrative claim with OSHA. If you are then terminated after the investigation into your “charge” by the railroad, this constitutes another adverse action and your time begins to toll from the date of the termination letter. Again, once that time begins to run, you only have 180 days from that moment in order to bring a claim.

So many potential clients come to us after the statute of limitations has expired and their rights have run out. It’s important to file your administrative claim with OSHA as soon as possible. It is even more important to speak with a railroad attorney who understands the whistleblower laws and can help you file your claim.

Am I protected from retaliation?

Yes.  All railroad workers are protected by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) which was enacted to promote safety in all areas of railroad operations and to ensure that railroad employees engaging in certain protected activities under the Act could do so without the fear or threat of discrimination or retaliation from their railroad employer.   

Is racial discrimination part of whistleblower protection?

No, the whistleblower statute protects railroad workers in areas of safety.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects employees against racial discrimination.

Is the denial of return-to-work physicals protected under whistleblower laws?

Yes, the whistleblower law clearly states that when an employee seeks to return to work based on his or her treating physician’s recommendation, and the railroad refuses to allow that employee to return to work, this is discipline and a violation of the whistleblower Act.  The Act is designed in part to protect railroad workers from the railroad discriminating against employees who have reported injuries, have treated with their doctors to get well, and wish to resume their careers.

Do I need a lawyer that specializes in railroad whistleblower laws?

Yes. You should contact an attorney if you:

  • Reported a safety issue or personal injury and was given a letter of reprimand in your file,
  • Were told not to report the personal injury,
  • Are being charged with rule violations repeatedly to pad your file,
  • Experience harassment from your employer or others after having a personal injury,
  • Are being told you cannot take a return-to-work physical after your doctor has released you to return to full duty;
  • Are being threatened with a charge of absenteeism if you don’t return to work when your doctor has not released you to full duty;
  • You were terminated after reporting a safety issue, or
  • You were not allowed to bid for certain jobs or demoted after reporting a safety issue or unsafe working condition.

What is the process for filing a whistleblower claim?

For a whistleblower claim under the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), you have 180 days from the time of the adverse action to bring an administrative claim with OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

Call the experienced whistleblower railroad attorneys at Poolson Oden so we can help you navigate these issues and keep your whistleblower claim on track.