Back in May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule requiring certain employers to electronically submit data from their work-related injury records to OSHA. This new rule, which takes effect January 1, 2017 also included anti-retaliation provisions intended to prevent employers from discouraging employees from reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. Here is the OSHA announcement of the “Final Rule Issued to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Addressing Employer’s Compliance Obligations.”
OSHA’s initial plan was to begin enforcing the new anti-retaliation provisions in August, but due to litigation, the deadline was pushed back to December 1, 2016. On this past Monday, a Texas federal judge refused to block the anti-retaliation provisions, rejecting a request by numerous business groups for a national injunction while their legal challenge plays out. Covered employers (defined below under “Looking Down The Road”) must take immediate steps to comply with the new anti-retaliation provisions.
HOW TO COMPLY TODAY WITH THE NEW ANTI-RETALIATION PROVISIONS
- Employers must inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation. This obligation may be met by posting the OSHA Job Safety and Health — It’s The Law worker rights poster from April 2015 or later (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/poster.html).
- An employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and must not deter or discourage employees from reporting.
- An employer may not retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses
EASY, RIGHT? NOT SO FAST
The final rule does not specifically prohibit employers from performing drug tests on employees or implementing safety incentive programs. Instead, it prohibits employers from using drug-testing and safety incentive programs in a way that deters or discourages employees from reporting workplace incidents.
No More Post Incident Drug Testing: According to OSHA, a blanket policy that requires all employees to submit to drug testing following a workplace safety incident violates anti-retaliation protections. This anti-retaliation prohibition does not change or impact the Department of Transportation Commercial Driver License post-accident drug/alcohol testing requirement. The pertinent rule provides that “if an employer conducts drug testing to comply with the requirements of a state or federal law or regulation, the employer’s motive would not be retaliatory and this rule would not prohibit such testing.” OSHA has also indicated that post-incident drug testing is appropriate in circumstances where employee drug use is suspected to be the cause of the incident.
No Incentive Programs That Reward for Zero Reported Injuries: OSHA is concerned that if employees are sufficiently motivated, they will under-report incidents in order to reach the incentive. OSHA is also encouraging employers to implement incentive plans that reward employees to improve workplace safety without discouraging reporting.
WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
The new anti-retaliation provisions will allow OSHA to take a more proactive enforcement role, meaning that OSHA will not need to wait until a retaliation claim is filed to issue a citation against an employer if OSHA feels that the employer is discouraging appropriate reporting. This makes compliance particularly important. Consider the following immediate steps:
- Update your OSHA Poster, and if you have not already done so, adopt a reasonable reporting process. Your handbook is a great place to start.
- Mandatory post-incident drug testing policies must be revised immediately. Adopt language that links testing to a reasonable suspicion that drug use caused the incident or illness.
- Modify any incentive programs that may be construed to discourage employees from reporting workplace accidents or illnesses.
Here is the OSHA Fact Sheet addressing the “Final Rule to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.”
LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD
- July 1, 2017: Organizations with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA 300 Logs will be required to submit those records as well as Forms 300 and 301 electronically. Organizations with 20-249 employees that are classified in certain high-risk industries will also be required to electronically submit OSHA 300 Logs.
For your convenience and information, the links within this Alert contain related links to the list of “certain high-risk industries.”
WE CAN HELP
At Foley & Foley we have already helped many of our clients modify their handbooks and drug testing policies to comply with these new rules. We welcome the opportunity to help your organization do the same.