rounded corners

OSHA Seeks to Establish New Whistleblower Committee

Date: 5.31.2012

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced a plan to establish a Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee. The Committee will be charged with advising, consulting with, and making recommendations to the Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, and the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, on ways to improve OSHA’s administration of 21 different whistleblower statutes, including those in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  The recommendations will focus on ways to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of OSHA’s administration of whistleblower protections associated with the various statutes.

This announcement is part of a major overhaul prompted by a Government Accountability Office audit and appears to be funded in the DOL’s proposed budget for the 2013 fiscal year.  A federal register notice of the announcement may be viewed here.

The Committee will advise on the development and implementation of improved customer service to both workers who raise complaints and employers who are the subject of investigations, improvements in the investigative and enforcement process, and improvements in the fairness, efficiency and transparency of investigations. The composition and start date of the Committee is not yet known. Once established, the Committee will be bound by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires public meetings. As the number of whistleblower statutes and claims continues to increase, it is important employers and their counsel strive to be represented in these meetings and have their voices heard.

For employers, this development signals a continuing regulatory focus on employees as a means to deter, detect, and enforce federal regulations.  This, along with other efforts dedicated to enhancing OSHA’s whistleblower programs, is proof that OSHA is committed fully to leveraging information from employees as a vital resource and enforcement asset.  Employers are well-advised to review their compliance programs with specific attention to two key areas:

(1) their internal reporting mechanisms, commonly known as “hotlines;” and
(2) their institutional framework for guarding against and enforcing the organization’s anti-retaliation policies. 

The more effective these internal controls, the better equipped the organization will be to defend against whistleblower claims.
 
The Jackson Lewis Corporate Governance and Internal Investigation Practice advises employers on the development and continuous improvement of compliance programs and internal controls, and defends employers against whistleblower claims filed before OSHA, as well as whistleblower claims filed in federal court.