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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

OSHA finds Metro-North Commuter Railroad retaliated against injured employee

US Labor Department's OSHA finds Metro-North Commuter Railroad
retaliated against injured employee, 
interfered with medical treatment 
Railroad ordered to pay damages, attorney’s fees


An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. violated the employee protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act when it took retaliatory action against an employee at its Harmon Diesel Shop in Croton-on-Hudson who reported a workplace injury. OSHA found that the railroad, which provides commuter rail service in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, interfered with the worker's medical treatment and forced him to work in violation of his physician's orders.

The employee, a laborer, injured his finger on June 26, 2009, and reported it to management, who first attempted to dissuade him from seeking medical treatment. The worker received sutures at a nearby hospital, where he was instructed to not use his hand until the sutures healed, and to keep the hand clean and dry. The railroad's occupational health service determined that the injury disqualified the worker from duty, but the facilities director of the diesel shop persuaded the health service to change the worker's status to restricted duty. The worker's personal physician excused him from work until the sutures were removed and supplied written notice that he should not lift heavy objects or immerse his hands in chemicals, actions he performed in the normal course of his duties. In spite of these instructions and the employee's restricted work status, management ordered him back to work and required him to perform these duties.

"Metro-North's actions in this case are unacceptable and send a message of intimidation to its workforce," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. "Railroad employees must be free to report injuries without fear that their employers will harass them, ignore medical instructions or force them to work under conditions that could impair the healing process or cause more harm."

OSHA has ordered Metro-North to pay $10,000 in punitive damages to the worker and $8,830 in attorney's fees, and to expunge any adverse references relating to the employee's exercise of his FRSA rights from his personnel, safety and department files. Metro-North also must post an OSHA notice for employees in the Harmon Diesel Shop and on its internal website, and provide all diesel shop employees with information on employee protections for reporting work-related injuries.

Metro-North and the complainant each have 30 days from receipt of the findings to file an appeal with the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. Under the FRSA, employees of a railroad carrier and its contractors and subcontractors are protected against retaliation for reporting on-the-job injuries, reporting certain safety and security violations, and cooperating with investigations by OSHA and other regulatory agencies.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws. Under these laws enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed employee rights information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.