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OSHA launches ‘severe violator’ pilot program to tackle whistleblower retaliation

June 8, 2016

Kansas City, MO – OSHA has launched a pilot program targeted at employers in Region 7 who “engage in egregious behavior and blatant retaliation against workers who report unsafe working conditions and violations of the law.”

The Whistleblower-Severe Violator Enforcement Program is similar to OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which is aimed at employers who regularly neglect federal workplace safety regulations.

According to the agency, employers in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska – as well as those under federal enforcement in Iowa – will be placed on the W-SVEP log if they meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • A “significant” whistleblower case
  • Cases deemed worthy of litigation or issuance of merit Secretary’s Findings in connection with egregious citations, death or a rate-based incentive program for work-related injuries
  • A merit whistleblower case involving an employer who already is on the SVEP log
  • At least three merit whistleblower cases within the past three years

An employer placed in W-SVEP can petition the OSHA regional administrator for a follow-up visit and discharge from the program after three years. OSHA will review the employer’s policies and practices to determine if the situation has been corrected.

“When employers retaliate against workers who exercise their legal rights, other workers may suffer a chilling effect and fear exercising their rights to speak up,” Karena Lorek, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Kansas City, said in a press release. “Problems don't get fixed, and workers get hurt. Employers that act in that manner deserve greater public scrutiny and a powerful response from OSHA.”

The program went into effect May 27.