Whenever I speak at a Railroad Union Meeting, I emphasize the importance of reporting any injury, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time. The older railroad employees in attendance invariably raise their hand and relate stories of co-workers who were fired on trumped up charges after reporting an injury. No doubt, that scenario has occurred countless times on the Railroad. It is a small wonder why railroad employees hesitate to report injuries.
The Power of the FRSA
However, railroad employees have a powerful weapon to use against such harassing and intimidating actions by Railroad Management. Under the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) Whistleblower Provisions, an employee has a separate claim if he or she is disciplined in any way as a result of reporting an injury. The provisions of the FRSA are quite powerful and can effect a change in the culture, but only if railroad employees are made aware of the existence of the law and change their behavior. An experienced Railroad Attorney can assist an employee with this type of a case.
Whistleblower Law NOT Just for Injuries
I often receive calls from railroad employees and Local Chairperson on this issue. It is important to think about a potential FRSA Whistleblower Case in any disciplinary proceeding. Certainly, if an employee is disciplined for a rule violation connected with the reporting of an injury, the FRSA Whistleblower Law is always an issue. However, the Whistleblower Law also applies to other safety related issues, such as reporting unsafe conditions. I frequently counsel Local Chairperson to interject into the investigation proceeding a claim that the Whistleblower Law is being violated. This may assist down the road with the potential Whistleblower Claim if the Railroad persists with the discipline. Even accepting a waiver in lieu of proceeding with an investigation can still give rise to a Whistleblower Claim. In fact, the mere receipt of a Charge Letter by a railroad employee is enough to trigger the protections of the Federal Rail Safety Act.
Culture Change within Railroad Organizations
As all railroaders know, the culture on the Railroad needs to change with regard to safety. Knowing your rights and utilizing the provisions of the FRSA will go far in effecting this cultural change.
By Matt Darby