The numbers of whistleblower retaliation complaints that OSHA has received from those who disclosed potential workplace safety violations such as lack of social distancing and personal protective equipment has increased by nearly a third due to the pandemic, an IG report has said.
“OSHA was challenged to complete investigations in a timely manner before the pandemic, and the potential exists for even greater delays now,” it said, noting that the agency enforces some two dozen statutes that prohibit employers from retaliating against employees making such complaints.
“When OSHA fails to respond in a timely manner, it could leave workers to suffer emotionally and financially. Failure to investigate a whistleblower complaint promptly may also lead to the erosion of key evidence and witnesses,” it added.
At the same time, it said, employment in OSHA’s whistleblower program has decreased over the last year from 126 to 120. “According to investigators we interviewed, no more than 20 open investigations at once would be the optimal caseload per investigator. Depending on the region, investigators reported the number of open investigations ranged from 15 to 40 in 2019, but 19 to 45 in 2020,” it said.
It said management agreed with its recommendations regarding vacancies in investigator positions, triage of complaints, and development of a caseload management plan to evenly distribute complaints among investigators.