A revised online form backed by OSHA aims to make it easier for whistleblowers to complain about their employers, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced Friday.
Workers still have a right to lodge formal complaints in a number of other ways: snail mail, fax, hand-delivery, verbally on the phone or in person. But the updated web-based filing option offers an interactive option available all day every day, designed help workers navigate the potentially daunting seascape of laws and regulations that keep worker rights afloat.
The whistleblower provisions of some 22 statutes are enforced by OSHA, affecting everything from workplace health and safety to consumer protection and nuclear power. (Details on that are available at www.whistleblowers.gov .)
The revision should help route complaints to the proper point people within the federal government, said Loren Sweatt, deputy assistant labor secretary for Occupational Safety and Health—who, by the way, was just named to the post . (Her boss has yet to be named , but a safety and sustainability exec from FedEx Ground is rumored to be  under consideration.)
“Workers who report unsafe conditions and wrongdoing have a range of legal protections from retaliation,” Sweatt said in a statement. “The revised online complaint form works to ensure whistleblowers file their complaints with the appropriate federal agency for prompt action.”
We’ve revised our online whistleblower complaint form to help ensure users file with the appropriate agency: https://t.co/LFzlNqjwqq 
— OSHA_DOL (@OSHA_DOL) July 28, 2017 
The form begins by posing a series of direct questions in a conversational tone. “Have you suffered an ‘adverse action’?” the list begins, offering respondents a series of boxes to check. An adverse action could include being fired, disciplined, demoted, or something else, the form explains.
The questions ask for a summary of when and where the adverse action took place, plus any suspected motivation for the action. The interactivity of the form prevents a user from proceeding without filling in mandatory fields.
A valid whistleblower complaint alleges four things:
- that an employee took part in activity protected by a whistleblower protection law,
- that the employer knew or suspected that the employee had done so,
- that the employer took adverse action against the worker, and
- that the adverse action was motivated, at least in party, by the worker’s protected activity.
Don’t think for a moment that healthcare employers don’t have to worry about these things. While the highly regulated healthcare industry keeps employers on their toes, it’s still possible that hospital administrators seeking to protect their institutional prestige could violate the rights of their workers. That’s what the DOL alleged happened with Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford, Connecticut. After more than five years, the health center agreed to pay $125,000  to three former employees whom the DOL deemed “whistleblowers.”