Labor Department Report: More Workers Speaking Up, Blowing the Whistle on COVID Safety Violations—But Their Complaints of Retaliation Face Delays at Understaffed OSHA

Washington, DC—The U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General has published a new report further evidencing what workers across the country already know: Their whistleblower complaints are not being investigated with any level of urgency due in part to understaffing. The report, COVID-19: OSHA Needs To Improve Its Handling Of Whistleblower Complaints During The Pandemic, was published late last week. Debbie Berkowitz, worker health & safety program director at the National Employment Law Project, said the following:

“This report makes it clear that OSHA is failing to protect terrified workers around the country who raised workplace safety concerns during the pandemic, only to be retaliated against by their employer. OSHA has received an unprecedented number of retaliation complaints from workers in this pandemic. Yet, because OSHA has failed to fill whistleblower positions, investigators now face increased caseloads and complainants now face the very real potential for even lengthier delays, with investigations now taking an average of 279 days to complete (up 41 days since the last OIG audit in 2015).

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“Further, the report revealed that just in the first few months of the pandemic, OSHA received 1,618 COVID-related whistleblower complaints, and has already dismissed more than half of these. This failure by the Administration to protect workers who raise concerns has a disproportionate impact on Black workers. A recently released NELP report, Silenced About COVID-19 in the Workplace, found that Black workers are more than twice as likely as white workers to have seen possible retaliation by their employer; they are also twice as likely as white workers to indicate having unresolved COVID-related concerns at work.

“The Department of Labor must protect every worker’s rights, because too many employers are denying these rights—including the right to speak out on the job for safe and healthy conditions. Worker rights and voice are fundamental to our democracy. The DOL must take its role seriously and ensure every whistleblower claim is expeditiously investigated so that workers are not forced to choose between their health and their economic security.”

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