It was another day at the ABC factory in Simple Town, USA. The boss, known as Grumpy Sam, started the day as usual by walking around and monitoring the employees to ensure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing and work was getting done. Just another typical day at work, but there was one slight difference: a new worker on the factory line was learning their new duties and responsibilities as part of the team.
That day, the new worker noticed a safety issue with one of the machines on the line and asked a co-worker if he should bring it to Grumpy Sam’s attention. The co-worker responded quickly, “NO! I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” she said almost fearfully. The new worker was confused and startled at the same time and asked, “Why not?” The conversation continued in hushed tones, with the other worker explaining that Grumpy Sam got his nickname for always being in a foul mood and not being supportive of the team. He also had a reputation for not treating workers well if they ever came to him with questions or concerns about safety-related issues. Luckily, the newer worker had just transferred from another place of employment where workers knew about Worker Rights and OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. He went on to explain that he loved his new job and that the intent of bringing the issue up to the supervisor was to help keep workers safe and make sure there would not be any production delays. It was also important to feel free from retaliation if a complaint was filed.
While this is a fictional story, it is a real issue for many workers in almost all industries. The fear of retaliation by an employer for reporting safety issues is genuine. In some cases, workers simply need to be made aware of worker rights, whistleblower protections or how to initiate a complaint process. Many will say nothing and keep on working under unsafe conditions for fear of losing their job if they were to report it. Workplace safety is not just about following good practices and regular training; it is also about educating everyone about federal law provisions that entitle workers to speak up about safety issues without fear of retaliation.
To get started, here is a list of frequently asked questions and guidance from OSHA to review: