OSHA Memorandum Addresses Incentive Programs that Discourage Reporting of Injuries

Whistleblower programs are created and supported by OSHA to aid in compliance of the Law.Earlier this year, OSHA issued a memorandum on the subject of employer safety incentive and disincentive policies and practices. The memorandum addresses programs that some employers have instituted that discourage workers from reporting injuries using such methods as disciplining the employees when they report an injury. This practice violates 29 C.F.R. 1904.35(b)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which addresses work-related reporting of injuries and illnesses, and violates section 11c as well as other whistleblower statutes. The memorandum states that retaliating against a worker for reporting an injury or illness is illegal discrimination under section 11c. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) prohibits this discrimination against employees in the railroad industry.

The entire workforce is put at risk when workers do not feel free to report injuries and illnesses. There are several ways that incentive programs are designed by some employers that discourage or even punish workers reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. Whether a program actually disciplines workers who report injuries, or just gives incentives to those who do not report incidents, any rules or programs that discourage reporting qualify as discrimination against employees and their protected rights regarding a safe and healthy work environment.

Incentives or other practices that discourage workers from reporting injuries would also violate Part 1904 of the OSH Act, which requires employer’s to record injuries and illnesses due to safety and health violations. OSHA’s VPP Guidance materials suggest positive incentives that can be used such as providing tee shirts to workers who serve on safety and health committees, offering modest rewards for suggesting ways to improve safety and health, or throwing a recognition party after successful completion of company-wide safety and health training.

If workers feel that their employers are discouraging or discriminating against workers for reporting injuries, they should contact the Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs at (202) 693-2199 with questions or to give a referral for a recordkeeping investigation to be made. A list of common potentially discriminatory policies can be found at http://www.osha.gov .