House hearing addresses whistleblower reform, victims' rights

As part of a series of hearings on the Protecting America's Workers Act (H.R. 2067), members of the House Education and Labor Committee's Workforce Protections Subcommittee on Wednesday heard testimony on provisions in the bill to increase rights for whistleblowers and victims.

Assistant OSHA administrator Jordan Barab praised provisions in the bill that would allow -- if deadlines are missed -- a whistleblower to "kick out" a case from an OSHA investigation and take it directly to an Administrative Law Judge hearing, and "kick out" from that hearing or an Administrative Review Board hearing to a district court.

However, attorney Lloyd Chinn said such provisions would overwhelm ALJs and ARB, resulting in delays.

Also at the hearing, Tonya Ford testified on OSHA's lack of communication regarding its investigation into her uncle's workplace death. Although OSHA has policies in place to talk with families during the investigation process, Barab said such policies are not always implemented in a consistent and timely manner. PAWA would place into law the right of a victim to meet with OSHA on the investigation. However, some witnesses at the hearing, including Barab, raised concerns regarding the provisions allowing victims' representatives to meet with OSHA before the agency decides on citations or settlements, suggesting it could be logistically difficult for victims and OSHA regional and area offices. In addition, attorney Dennis Morikawa, who spoke on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asked for clarification on whether a "representative of the victim" can be someone other than a family member, such as an attorney.

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