OSHA Fines Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern Railway must pay more than $288,000 for violations of whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced last week that it had found that Norfolk Southern Railway Co. committed such violations.

OSHA says that an investigation revealed that a Norfolk Southern employee was retaliated against for reporting a workplace injury and following the company’s reporting policy.

According to OSHA officials, the employee was hurt in September 2009 and upon notifying his supervisor a couple of days later, he was removed from service, than charged by the company with falsifying an injury, providing conflicting information relative to the injury, and late reporting of the injury.

The employee was terminated in November 2009. Then in March 2010, OSHA says the employee signed a leniency waiver under duress by the railroad and was then returned to service nearly six months later in September 2010.

OSHA says it found that the company’s investigative hearing was severely flawed and intentionally designed to support its decision to terminate the worker. Moreover, OSHA’s investigation revealed callousness in the steps the railroad took to retaliate against this employee, including the coercion into admitting wrongdoing when the record shows that the employee was simply following company policy.

In this case, OSHA is ordering the railroad to pay the worker $150,000 in punitive damages; $125,000 for mental anguish, pain and suffering; $10,550 in back pay and costs associated with purchasing back lost retirement benefits; and $3,150 in attorney’s fees.

In addition, OSHA says the company has been ordered to expunge the disciplinary record of the employee as well as post a notice regarding employees’ whistleblower protection rights under the FRSA and provide training to its employees about these rights.

Either party to the case can file an appeal to the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is a major transporter/hauler of coal and other commodities serving every major container port in the eastern United States with connections to western carriers. Its headquarters are in Norfolk, Va., with more than 30,000 union employees.