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Railroad Fined for Firing Injured Whistleblowers

July 20, 2012 — The U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday that the Illinois Central Railroad will be required to pay damages and back pay for two workers who were fired after reporting injuries. The injuries both occurred in the Markham Railroad Yard in Homewood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. In both cases, injured workers were fired after they reported an injury on the job. It is a violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act for a railroad company to fire an employee who reports a railroad injury on the job.

The first injury occurred in August 2008. A conductor was hurt when a knuckle (the connector between two rail cars) broke, knocking him to the ground. He reported his injury. The railroad investigated and held a hearing, and then fired the conductor, finding that he had violated safety rules. When OSHA investigated, they found that he was actually “terminated in reprisal for reporting a work-related injury.” The railroad company was ordered to pay him $269,707 in unpaid wages, unpaid vacation, medical expenses and attorneys’ fees, another $100,000 in punitive damages, and another $75,000 in compensatory damages.

The second injury occurred in February 2008. A carman was inspecting railcars in a poorly-lit area of the yard, and slipped on an icy platform. He injured his arm and shoulder. After he reported his injury, he was fired, and the railroad claimed he had violated the company’s injury reporting procedures. OSHA found that he did nothing wrong when he reported the injury, and ordered the railroad to pay him $154,694 in damages and give his job back if a doctor clears him for work.

Just last month, OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern Railway Co. to pay more than $800,000 for firing three railroad workers who filed injury reports. An OSHA investigation found that the railroad retaliated against the men after they were injured. Norfolk was ordered to clear each man’s disciplinary record and post notices that other employees have a right to report injuries and file an injury lawsuit.

Whistleblower laws protect employees who report workplace injuries. If injuries are not reported because employees are afraid of losing their job, serious safety hazards can continue to harm people.

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