OSHA Warns Employer Safety Incentive Programs May Violate the Law

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a memo this March to guide field compliance officers and whistleblower investigative staff regarding employer practices that may discourage employee reports of injuries and violate whistleblower statutes. Specifically, the memo reminds OSHA enforcement officials that reporting a work-related injury or illness is a core employee right. Workplace practices and policies that discourage employees from reporting could constitute unlawful discrimination, violate whistleblower protections, and may also violate OSHA’s recordkeeping regulations.

Such practices include:

  • Employers that have a policy of taking disciplinary action against employees who are injured on the job.
  • Employers that discipline employees who have reported an injury or illness for the stated reason that the employee has violated a rule about the time or manner for reporting injuries and illnesses.
  • Employers that impose discipline on the ground that the injury resulted from the violation of a safety rule by the employee.
  • Other programs that unintentionally or intentionally provide employees an incentive to not report injuries, such as winning a prize or bonus for the absence of individual or team injuries.

Under the OSH Act, reporting an injury is always a protected activity and retaliating against a worker for reporting an injury or illness is illegal discrimination. Other whistleblower and recordkeeping statutes enforced by OSHA also may protect employees who report workplace injuries.

OSHA recognizes that if employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk. Employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries, and injured employees may not receive the proper medical attention, or the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled. Ensuring that employees can report injuries or illnesses without fear of retaliation is therefore crucial to protecting worker safety and health. Also, OSHA also recognizes a there a number of ways to encourage safe work practices. For additional guidance, the memo can be viewed here.

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