THE PURPOSE OF THIS LEGISLATION
49 U.S.C. §20109 was enacted in 2007 to address railroad company pressure on employees not to report safety problems and injuries. This whistle blower law should balance the power relations, so that railroad workers can speak up about injuries and safety issues without fear of intimidation, retaliation, or harassment by the major railroads, including Norfolk Southern, CSX, and AMTRAK. This legislation aims to keep people safe and to prevent hazardous situations before someone gets hurt.
Many times railroad workers have been intimidated by their supervisors not to mess up their "safety record." Too often, folks in all railroad crafts, engineers, conductors, trackmen, machine operators, carmen, machinists, signalmen and clerks, have been pressured not to say they got hurt on the job. This new law, together with the existing FELA law, gives railroaders rights and protections if they stand up for themselves. I hope the new law will get some workers, especially newer or younger employees of railroads, to report safety violations and injuries.
This statute seeks to promote action in cases where inaction may lead to a potentially catastrophic event. Railroad employers may not "discharge, demote, suspend, reprimand, or in any other way discriminate against an employee" when the worker engages in protected activities:
1) For filing a complaint related to safety or testifying against a railroad company; and
2) Refusing to work in hazardous conditions posing imminent danger of death or serious injury.
WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE REMEDIES?
As with any other tort action, compensatory damages are available and in some instances punitive damages may be available. However, the same bad conduct by the railroad can only be remedied once, meaning you cannot get relief under this law and also under other laws for the same thing.
A lawyer specializing in FELA cases should be consulted if you think you have a whistle blower case as the rules can be tricky. The attorney can coordinate among the options on this type of case, union appeals processes and regular FELA claims.