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Work safety whistleblowers and new ADR options

Employees often provide the most informed perspective on whether or not their workplace is safe. In an effort to reduce the prevalence of workplace accidents, the United States government affords protection to those employees who speak out against workplace safety violations and fear retaliation in response to their actions.

Whistleblowers may file formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in addition to filing a lawsuit for any physical harm caused by unsafe conditions. In response to the unique circumstances that whistleblowers often find themselves in, OSHA is launching a pilot program related to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) of whistleblower claims.

The pilot will take place in the San Francisco and Chicago regional offices of OSHA, but will likely affect practices in New York and throughout the nation eventually.

ADR will allow whistleblowers to engage in mediation or "early resolution" with their employers on a voluntary basis.

Given that OSHA's whistleblower protections extend to millions of private and public sector jobs, these ADR options could eventually revolutionize the ways in which these kinds of disputes are handled. In particular, ADR may afford both parties the chance to come to a resolution quickly and efficiently, thereby immediately affecting the safety of workers remaining on site.

OSHA currently receives an average of 2,500 whistleblower complaints each year. The current model of resolution has not lead to a decrease in whistleblower complaint filings. Only time will tell how effectively these new models will function. Hopefully, for the benefit of American employees across the country, they will do more good than harm.

Source: United States Department of Labor, "US Department of Labor's OSHA announces alternative dispute resolution pilot program for whistleblower complaints," Oct. 2, 2012

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