An administrative law judge has ruled that Norfolk Southern Railway must pay a former employee $122,199 in compensatory and punitive damages after it violated the worker’s rights under whistle-blower provisions of the Federal Railway Safety Act (FRSA).
The problem began when the man injured himself removing a spike from rail at the railroad’s Jamestown facility. Claiming he was pressured to remain silent, the man did not report the injury. Five months later, after aggravating the injury, he decided it was time to report it.
But once he returned to work, Norfolk Southern suspended and later fired him—for failing to report the original injury.
The worker complained to OSHA, which enforces the FRSA’s whistle-blower provisions. OSHA investigated and concluded the railroad intimidated employees into not reporting workplace injuries.
OSHA speculated on the reason: Norfolk Southern won the E.H. Harriman Gold Medal Safety Award for 22 consecutive years and was concerned reporting the injuries would imperil winning the award again.
Note: Safety awards are nice, but forcing an employee to cover up an injury can easily come back to haunt an employer. In this case, the railroad was hit with $75,000 in punitive damages. Courts really don’t like this type of behavior.