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Before you begin to worry about your workers abusing their right to call the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration with allegations of safety violations, take a deep breath. You need to understand what your options are when a worker files a complaint and what your rights are in the matter. Employee abuse of OSHA doesn't just affect your business, it affects OSHA's operations and your employees as well.
A Worker's Right
Workers have the right to file a complaint about safety conditions at a business. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1974 guarantees them this right. Not only can they complain, they can meet with the OSHA inspector in private, be part of any discussion you have with the inspector, and demand you test the air and any other environmental element. OSH 74 protects this right by calling these workers whistleblowers and by forbidding you from firing them for exercising this right. Workers’ rights are summarized on an OSHA poster, which is required in every workplace.
False statements to OSHA have several effects. When OSHA inspectors receive a complaint, they often go to the workplace for an on-site investigation of the situation. A false report reduces the time OSHA inspectors can spend going to workplaces that have real problems, and prevents them from addressing real workplace hazards. Not only does abuse of the OSHA system take up inspectors’ time, it takes up time for the administrative and support personnel, who provide the inspector with background information. The taxpayers pay the salaries of the inspector and support personnel at OSHA. This means the costs of the abuse of the system extend all the way into the pocketbook of taxpayers, who have nothing to do with the business that’s the subject of the abuse.
Workers who abuse the OSHA system by filing frivolous safety-hazard reports may find themselves in hot water. Mistakes or misunderstandings happen, but if OSHA identifies a pattern of malicious reports concerning unsafe conditions at your business, they can take action. False statements or reports to federal officials are unlawful. OSHA is a branch of the federal government; as such, false reports are a violation of the law found in Title 29 of the United States Code. OSHA, not you, will inform the U.S. attorney of a pattern of false statements that appear to have a malicious intent.
Prison and Fines
Abusing the OSHA reporting system can seriously affect the employee filing the report. The 2014 edition of the criminal resource manual for the U.S. Attorney’s Office references Title 9 of the United States Code, and lays out stiff penalties for those who make false statements in OSHA reports. It says that false statements in matters related to OSHA or OSH 74 Act can result in a fine of $10,000, six months in prison or both.
- U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration: You Have the Right to a Safe Workplace
- U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA Poster
- Cornell University Leagal Information Institute: 29 USC § 666 - Civil and Criminal Penalties
- U.S. Department of Justice: United States Attorney's Office - Criminal Resource Manual 2014 OSHA - False Statement, Representation, or Certification
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.