Part III – Manifest: Can the FRSA Protect Your Safety Concerns?
The railroads refuse to do anything to protect you from the coronavirus. So many railroaders are asking us, is there anything contained in the Federal Rail Safety Act to protect railroaders who make safety complaints related to coronavirus?
The FRSA makes it illegal for railroads to discipline you, or discriminate against you in any way, for reporting a hazardous safety condition. Courts have held that reporting all sorts of conditions – from concerns about working in proximity bedbugs, to insufficient training, to a lack of walkways, and concerns about smoky odors – are protected under the FRSA. Reporting your safety concerns related to coronavirus are likewise protected by the FRSA.
You should stand up for yourself, your health, and your co-workers and let the railroad know it should be sanitizing locomotives between shifts; it should be providing employees with masks and gloves or, at the very least, allowing employees to wear them; it should be sanitizing common areas; it should be monitoring fellow employees for symptoms, including their temperatures before allowing them to perform service; and it should immediately isolate any employees who show symptoms of coronavirus. It always helps to have witnesses present when you make these complaints, and to make clear to management that coronavirus is a known hazardous safety condition that the railroad should be protecting against. If you have any sense that management might be retaliating against you after you report these concerns, contact us right away; it is the best way to protect yourself before the railroad tries to discipline you.
Refusing to work when the railroad refuses to address your safety concerns creates more of an uphill battle. No one wants to work knowing they are being exposed to a deadly virus, but the FRSA does not protect every refusal to work.
The FRSA protects an employee’s refusal to work when confronted with a hazardous safety condition, only if three things are present: (1) there is no reasonable alternative except the refusal; (2) the hazardous condition presents an imminent danger of death or serious injury; and (3) the urgency of the situation does not allow sufficient time to eliminate the danger. Perhaps the clearest situation when a refusal may be appropriate is if a co-worker is showing signs of coronavirus infection and the railroad is demanding that you work side-by-side with that employee, or if such an employee just left a workstation and the railroad demands that you work there without sanitizing it first. If such a situation arises, contact us or your union representative if you are able to, prior to the refusal. But if you make the choice to stand up for your health and your co-workers by refusing to work under dangerous conditions, we will be there to fight for you under the FRSA. When any dispute with management arises at work, the sooner you contact legal counsel the better. 410-769-5400, firstname.lastname@example.org