Every whistleblower case handled by the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) involves different circumstances and outcomes. Nonetheless, there are some general steps in the process. The complete process consists of filing the complaint, an investigation, and a conclusion. It should also be noted that filing a whistleblower complaint does not guarantee that OSHA will take up the case or see it through.
Filing a complaint
An employee (known as the complainant) or legal representative can file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA in person, via phone, mail, or even online. There are various kinds of whistleblower complaints that can be filed, including employee safety, environmental protection, fraud and financial issues, or health insurance. Still, they involve the employer (known as the respondent). It is not required, but complainants often use a designee as the point person to work with OSHA representatives. This allows the respondent to remain anonymous if they wish and allows the representative to handle the many details. The complaint should include contact information so that OSHA can interview the complainant and determine if the case is worth them pursuing.
Conducting the investigation
If OSHA determines enough evidence to merit an investigation, the administration assigns an investigator. These people act as neutral factfinders. They also notify the complainant, respondent and the applicable government agency OSHA partners with to conduct the investigation. The complainant and respondent should collect as much evidence as possible to support their case. This likely includes internal memos, personal email, voicemail, texts, phone logs, contracts, meeting minutes and letters. Each side must provide this information to the other.
The investigator will ask the respondent to provide a position statement on the allegations made by the complainant. Both parties have the opportunity to rebut the other party’s arguments. This process uses OSHA’s Alternate Dispute Resolution program and may lead the two sides to negotiate a settlement, which OSHA must approve. The complainant may also “kick out” and file a complaint with a federal district court if OSHA issues no final order within the assigned deadline.
Concluding the investigation
The investigator concludes the investigation by making recommendations to their supervisor. The superior either agrees or disagrees with the investigator. If they agree, the administration issues a findings letter to both sides. It will include information for remedies (if applicable). The complainant and respondent can also appeal the decision, which an administrative law judge then hears. In some cases, the complainant can request a review by OSHA’s national office if there is a dismissal.