American Workers Can't Report Health, Safety Violations on the Job Without Fear of Retaliation

-For Immediate Release-
Oct. 23, 2013

Contact: Brian Gumm,, 202-683-4812

American Workers Can’t Report Health, Safety Violations
on the Job Without Fear of Retaliation

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2013—A study released today by the Center for Effective Government calls for better protections for workers who report health and safety hazards on the job.

"American workers who report health and safety risks need better protections against employer retaliation," said Katherine McFate, President and CEO of the Center for Effective Government. "Federal workplace health and safety laws are weak and outdated and leave workers who experience retaliation without adequate remedy."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the agency responsible for enforcing the federal workplace health and safety statute, known as the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). As another Center for Effective Government study released in August reported, while the number of workplaces in the U.S. doubled between 1981 and 2011, the number of OSHA inspectors in 2011 was lower than in 1981. (During this period, the number of workers increased to 129 million from 73 million.) Mandatory budget cuts, required by the 2011 budget deal, will further undermine OSHA’s ability to protect America’s workers.

As a result, it is even more important for workers to be the eyes and ears of OSHA and report health and safety problems in factories, laboratories, construction sites, and other workplaces. "But too often, when workers raise concerns about health and safety hazards on the job, employers retaliate with reduced hours or dismissal, even though doing so is clearly illegal," noted Katie Weatherford, regulatory policy analyst at the Center for Effective Government and the author of the report. "Neither federal OSHA nor its state-level counterparts currently do enough to protect workers from being harassed, suspended, or fired for reporting health and safety problems, leaving workers with no place to turn."

Ongoing efforts to improve federal law through vehicles like the Protecting America's Workers Act have been stalled in Congress. And although the Obama administration has prioritized improvements in OSHA's whistleblower protection program, the sequester has prevented needed funding increases.

Thus, the Center for Effective Government calls for state governments to improve state laws that protect workers who report health and safety hazards from employer retaliation. Specifically, the Center calls for state laws that will:

  • Give employees adequate time to file a retaliation complaint;
  • Require state agencies to conduct prompt and thorough investigations of retaliation complaints;
  • Authorize state agencies to preliminarily reinstate terminated employees;
  • Make the burden of proof reasonable; and
  • Provide employees the right to pursue legal action on their own if the agency dismisses their complaint or refuses to pursue their case

"Adding these protections to state law will reduce the fear of retaliation and encourage workers to come forward to report health and safety hazards," said Ronald White, director of regulatory policy. "Increased reports of workplace hazards will help federal OSHA and state programs identify and target their limited resources to the most dangerous facilities."

The report is available online at

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The Center for Effective Government is dedicated to building an open, accountable government that advances the priorities defined by an informed citizenry. Find the Center for Effective Government on Facebook and Twitter.

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