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Burlington Northern Agrees to Revised Personnel Policies that May Have Violated Federal Whistleblower Protections for Railroad Workers

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Major railroad corporation Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) reached an accord with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding a voluntary revision of BNSF’s personnel policies that OSHA claimed violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The policies appeared to be aimed at dissuading railroad workers from reporting on-the-job injuries.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act protects railroad workers (whether it be a conductor, engineer, trackman, yardman, etc.) from retaliation for reporting possible violations of federal laws and railroad safety regulations and on-the-job injuries.

According to UTU.org, the major terms of the accord include:

  • Altering the disciplinary policy for BNSF railroad workers so that injuries do not play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation.
  • BNSF reduced the probations of 36 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.
  • Eliminating a policy which assigned a point system for railroad workers who suffered on-the-job injuries.
  • Requiring a higher level of review by the railroad’s upper management and legal department when a rail employee reports an on-the-job personal injury and is disciplined for the incident that resulted in the injury.
  • Initiating a training program for managers, human resources professionals, and labor relations personnel to educate them about their responsibilities under the Federal Rail Safety Act.
  • Making settlement offers in multiple cases involving railroad employees who filed whistleblower complaints with OSHA claiming that they suffered harm under one, or more, of BNSF’s previous policies.

Our railroad worker injury law firm is pleased to see BNSF take steps to remediate the apparent problems with its policies under the Federal Rail Safety Act. No employee should ever be discouraged from reporting an on-the-job injury. This is especially true for a potentially dangerous work environment like a rail yard. Safety and transparency should be the primary pillars of a railroad company’s policies.  

For more information about the Federal Rail Safety Act and the protections afforded to injured railroad workers, take a moment read this article.

Richard N. Shapiro
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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