Oregon OSHA's

Health and Safety Resource

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December 2016

You feel unsafe at work – now what do you do?

"It's the law! You have a right to a safe and healthful workplace." Those words should be common knowledge to every working Oregonian because they are prominent in Oregon OSHA's safety and health poster, which is displayed in every Oregon workplace – or, at least it should be.

Your rights include participating in safety and health inspections, talking to an Oregon OSHA inspector, seeing your employer's exposure and injury records, and stating a safety or health concern to your employer. But what do you do when you are denied those rights?

If you are worried about what your employer will do to you because you are concerned about unsafe work conditions where you work, that is discrimination and you can do something about it (see sidebar).

 

Filing a whistleblower discrimination complaint

If you think your employer is discriminating against you because you are concerned about unsafe work conditions, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI).

Complaints alleging retaliation must be filed within 90 days of when the retaliation occurs. Filing a complaint begins by filling out a questionnaire and returning it to the Portland BOLI office. You may also call BOLI's Civil Rights Division at 971-673-0764 (English) or 971-673-2818 (Spanish).

Whistleblower discrimination complaints aren't rare. BOLI's Civil Rights Division handles as many as 125 cases annually.

How are you protected?

Protection from discrimination means that your employer cannot retaliate against you for reporting a workplace safety and health violation and for other protected activities, including:

  • Providing information to a government agency (Oregon OSHA or BOLI), a supervisor (the employer), a union, health department, fire department, or an elected official
  • Filing a formal complaint with Oregon OSHA or BOLI
  • Testifying in proceedings such as trials hearings or appeals related to the complaint
  • Participating in workplace inspections and investigations
  • Refusal to perform an assigned task that endangers your safety or health

What state agencies are involved in whistleblowing cases?

Oregon OSHA contracts with BOLI to handle whistleblowing discrimination complaints.

Oregon OSHA provides BOLI with technical help, refers cases to the Ombudsman for Injured Workers, audits BOLI cases, and investigates cases in which safety and health violations may have occurred.

Who can file a complaint with BOLI?

Anyone who feels discriminated against for exercising their rights under the Oregon Safe Employment Act can file a complaint with BOLI. The complaint must:

  • State the name and address of the employer.
  • Describe the unlawful practice.
  • Be signed by the person who made the complaint.
  • Be filed with BOLI within 90 of the unlawful practice.

What is involved in filing a discrimination complaint with BOLI?

A BOLI intake officer will talk to you to determine if there is a basis for your complaint.

The intake officer may refer the complainant to either BOLI or Federal OSHA depending on whether the complaint falls under state or federal laws.

The intake officer will draw up a complaint for you to review and sign if there are grounds for a case. When BOLI receives your signed complaint, notification letters will be sent to you and your employer.

The notification letter will request a position statement from your employer within 14 days of the time the case is assigned to a civil rights investigator, and you will be required to contact the investigator within 14 days to schedule a complainant interview.

A senior civil rights investigator will contact you for an in-depth interview. Your complaint will also be emailed to Oregon OSHA for entry into federal OSHA's whistleblower database.

You will be given an in-depth interview within 45 days from the date your complaint is filed with BOLI. The interview will cover each issue you identify and the date it happened. You must be able to explain the connection between how you were discriminated against and your protected rights (for example, being fired for reporting a safety hazard). You must also identify witnesses if you know their names.

If there is any missing evidence, you will be given time to provide it, but you must do it in a timely manner.

After the interview, your case will be classified in one of three ways:

  • The investigator will determine there is enough evidence to support your case.
  • The investigator needs more information about your case.
  • The case will be dismissed because the evidence indicates that your rights were not violated.

BOLI will complete your case within 90 days, unless extenuating circumstances require more time. When the investigation ends, BOLI will notify you of the determination in writing and tell you about your appeal rights with Oregon OSHA.

If BOLI determines that your rights were not violated, BOLI will dismiss your complaint, notify you and your employer of the dismissal, and tell you of your right to file a civil suit in a state circuit court. You may also appeal BOLI's finding to Oregon OSHA within 15 days of receiving a case dismissal letter from BOLI.

If BOLI finds that your rights were violated, your complaint may be assigned to a BOLI representative for settlement.

Settling disputes through "Conference, conciliation, and persuasion"

"Conference, conciliation, and persuasion" is a legal term for settling disputes between two parties cooperatively. Sometimes, BOLI will use this method for settling whistleblower disputes.

BOLI will start by holding a fact-finding conference with you and your employer. A BOLI investigator will schedule the conference, notifying you and your employer of the meeting date, time, and place. If you reach an agreement during the conference that is satisfactory to you and your employer, the BOLI investigator will prepare a conciliation agreement that states:

  • You and your employer accept the terms of the agreement.
  • You and your employer will abide by the terms within the time established by the agreement.
  • BOLI will investigate any alleged breaches of the agreement.
  • BOLI will close the case after your and your employer sign the agreement.

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For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.