Environmental Whistleblowers

January 27, 2010

One of the most significant changes to the whistleblower laws is the allowance of oral comments to OSHA. From the government’s standpoint, this is particularly helpful in environmental cases where the statute of limitation is just 30 days.

Plaintiff attorneys will still advise the whistleblowers and advocates to submit written complaints to OSHA as documentation of how they are meeting the limit. However, OSHA is now required to record telephone complaints and document the date of the call. If the call is within the 30-day time limit, it can save a case that would otherwise be dismissed. Complaints can also be made in languages other than English.

Timing is incredibly important when submitting complaints to OSHA, so it is necessary to act swiftly. With this new oral notice opportunity, there may be more whistleblower cases and OSHA litigation moving forward in this administration.

Additionally, plaintiff attorneys have routinely argued that company lawyers should not be present when OSHA interviews company employees. Attorneys believe the presence of the boss’ attorney may have an intimidating effect on employees. While the department has not yet put this into a formal regulation, it has announced that OSHA will conduct private meetings with non-management employee witnesses.

The final regulations become effective on July 18, 2011 and are published at 76 FR 2808 (page 2808 of volume 76 of the Federal Register).