In October 2012, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it had obtained a consent judgment against Parker Medical Inc., a manufacturer of X-ray devices, for discharging an employee a few days after he filed a complaint with OSHA. Parker Medical agreed to pay the discharged employee $12,000 in back wages and interest, display the OSHA poster with information about whistleblower rights in its workplace, expunge the employee's personnel record of all references to the situation and provide a neutral job reference. 

This case is part of a nationwide trend that may have a severe impact on all manufacturers, and machining operations specifically, due to the high level of focus on safety required in these industries. Over the last several years, as part of a “multifaceted plan for strengthening the enforcement of 21 whistleblower laws,” OSHA has restructured its whistleblower program and has made changes to its program policy, training and internal systems.

For example, recently OSHA announced that its Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program would report directly to the much higher-profile Dept. of Labor’s Office of the Assistant Secretary, rather than the Directorate of Enforcement Programs.  The DOL called the restructuring a “significantly elevated priority status for whistleblower enforcement.”

When we read about “whistle blowing” we tend to think about big banks and white-collar crime. But OSHA’s initiative very clearly extends the possibilities to metalworking companies, as the Parker Medical case demonstrated. Employers need to understand what these changes are and how to take proactive steps to avoid potential investigations and ensure that they have defensible policies in place should an investigation arise.