COVID-19 Update: Workers Have a Right to Report Unsafe Working Conditions During a Pandemic

OSHA reminds employers retaliation against whistleblowers is illegal

April 9, 2020

Don’t hesitate to report unsafe working conditions

Best practices during the coronavirus pandemic include frequent cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces as well as proper personal protective equipment for workers. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reminds employers that it is illegal to punish workers who report unsafe and unhealthful working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. Acts of retaliation against whistleblower employees can include terminations, demotions, denials of overtime or promotion, or reductions in pay or hours.

Workers have the right to file a whistleblower complaint online with OSHA (or call 1-800-321-OSHA) if they believe their employer has retaliated against them for exercising their rights under the whistleblower protection laws enforced by the agency.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program webpage provides valuable resources on worker rights, including fact sheets on whistleblower protections for employees in various industries and frequently asked questions. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.

Whistleblower reports public transportation agency for lack of cleaning

One example of a whistleblower enacting his or her rights during the coronavirus pandemic is a bus driver for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), CBS-TV reports.

The whistleblower alleges that fare machines, known as breeze machines, which MARTA passengers touch frequently are not being cleaned frequently.  

 Last week, MARTA officials sent out a press release stating that public transportation agency has implemented an enhanced cleaning protocol of all vehicles and facilities. MARTA said it is also cleaning all high-touch areas multiple times a day. However, the whistleblower has never seen any cleaning crews cleaning and disinfecting the breeze machines.

The bus driver also said some drivers are still waiting for their vehicles to undergo the thorough cleaning that MARTA officials promised.

A MARTA spokesman said the breeze machines are cleaned roughly four times a day and pressure washed at night. The spokesman said he would speak to other MARTA officials about cleaning the machines more often and ensuring that buses are all cleaned nightly as well.

New York City lawmakers accuse housing authority of inadequate cleaning

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is another agency accused of not following proper cleaning procedures during a pandemic, ABC-TV reports.

Eleven lawmakers wrote a letter to the head of NYCHA saying the housing authority is not following emergency cleaning protocols. They also accuse the authority of failing to enforce social distancing guidelines. The lawmakers say there have been recent reports of large groups of people gathering in building common areas.

NYCHA officials say health and safety are a top priority and that the authority took decisive action early in coronavirus crisis to assure the health and safety of NYCHA residents.  

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