As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across our nation and impact countless individuals, we want to make sure railroad workers are informed as to their right to take time away from work for medical conditions. This right is protected by federal law, and it even guards against retaliation by an employer for any medically necessary absent days. Please take a moment during these trying times to learn about the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), one of the laws that safeguards your health and safety.
What is the FRSA and What Does it Protect?
The FRSA is a federal statute, often referred to as a whistleblower law, enacted to protect railroad workers from retaliation by their railroad employer for various protected activities, including when reporting medical conditions and safety concerns. Among other protections, the FRSA protects workers from retaliation for reporting any of the following:
- Medical conditions being treated by a physician, whether work-related or not
- Medical conditions that make the worker medically unfit to work
- Work-related injuries or illnesses
- Hazardous safety or security conditions
This law also guards against retaliation when a worker:
- Requests medical or first-aid treatment
- Follows orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician
What Actions Constitute Illegal Retaliation Under the FRSA?
The FRSA protects against railroad employers taking adverse actions in response to certain reports, including those noted above. Adverse or retaliatory actions include:
- Demoting, terminating, or laying off an employee
- Disciplining an employee, including for following medical advice
- Denying benefits to an employee
- Failing to hire or rehire an employee because of the report
- Blacklisting an employee (intentionally interfering with future employment)
- Intimidation or threats to an employee
- Reducing pay or hours
- Forcing an employee to work against medical advice
What Actions Must be Taken in the Face of Illegal Retaliation?
If a worker experiences illegal retaliation as a result of a report protected by the FRSA, the worker must, within 180 days of the retaliation, file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
What Does OSHA Do?
After the agency receives a complaint, it will conduct an investigation into the retaliation and ultimately, if appropriate, issue an order that seeks to make the worker whole. Ordered relief may include:
- Payment of backpay with interest
- Compensatory damages, including compensation for special damages, expert witness fees and reasonable attorney’s fees
- Punitive damages of up to $250,000
Railroad workers do not have to go it alone through an OSHA investigation or even to file their OSHA complaints without legal assistance and guidance. But it is critical to know the protections granted by the FRSA.
We Can Help!
The coronavirus pandemic has made clear already that none of us can take our health for granted. In a labor-intensive industry like the railroad, this is perhaps even more true. Don’t ignore your rights in this difficult time. If you experience an illegal adverse action because of an illness, injury, or medical condition, contact Rossi Vucinovich PC now. Our talented railroad injury lawyers have 50+ years of experience successfully representing injured railroad workers and their families.
For more information, please also visit the OSHA Fact Sheet discussing railroad whistleblower protections.