June 27, 2012 — Norfolk Southern Railway Co. will be forced to pay $802,168.70 to three railroad workers who were injured on the job, filed injury reports, and then were fired. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found the railroad in violation of whistleblower protection laws. The railroad must also remove violations from the employees’ disciplinary records and post notices that clearly inform other employees that they cannot be fired for filing injury reports or filing railroad injury lawsuits.
The OSHA investigation discovered strong evidence that all three employees had been fired for making injury reports.
The first case occurred in 2009, and involved a laborer who was hit by a gang truck. There were four other employees involved in the accident, but the laborer was the only one who was injured, and the only one who filed an injury report. He was also the only one singled out for failing to properly perform his duties, and was terminated on those grounds. OSHA ordered Norfolk to pay him more than $310,000 in damages.
The second case involved an engineer who tripped and fell in a restroom on a locomotive. After he filed an injury report, the railroad investigated his case, determined that he had falsified his injury, and fired him. The OSHA investigators found that Norfolk’s investigation was structured against the engineer with the intent to fire him. They ordered Norfolk to pay him more than $200,000 in damages.
The third case involved a locomotive conductor who had worked for the railroad for more than 35 years. He filed an injury report after fainting and hitting his head on his way back from the restroom. The railroad found that he had falsified his report and fired him. However, the day before the conductor was injured, he had received an exemplary performance review because he had never lost time due a workplace injury. OSHA forced Norfolk to pay him more than $175,000 in damages.
The ongoing investigation of Norfolk has found multiple cases in which the railroad terminated employees after they reported workplace injuries. OSHA was concerned that this could create a chilling effect, in which railroad workers might be reluctant to report an injury for fear of losing their job. Potential hazards are never investigated if employees do not report their injuries, which is why it is against the law to fire an employee for reporting a workplace injury.
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