A key ruling in an ongoing whistleblower case against Wisconsin Central Ltd. by an injured railroad mechnic who alleges he was improperly suspended strengthens job protections for all rail employees. In holding that the railroad could not enforce an arbitrary time limit for reporting an on-the-job injury, the judge in Smith-Bunge v. Wisconsin Central, Ltd. held that federal laws do not require employees to “follow any particular reporting regime. The [laws] only requires that the employee act in good faith to inform his or her employer of a work-related injury.”
I learned of this positive legal development from my fellow FELA/FRSA lawyer Charlie Goetsh, who has done much to enforce and extend workplace and employment protections for rail workers in the United States. I encourage readers to visit his blog to learn more about the current case against Wisconsin Central.
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FELA, which stands for the Federal Employers Liability Act, allows engineers, conductors, trackmen, brakemen and all rail yard workers to hold railroads accountable for creating or failing to correct unsafe conditions. When companies such as Amtrak, CSX or Norfolk Southern refuse to cover medical expenses and lost wages following an on-the-job accident, injured workers or the family members of employees who lost their lives can seek compensation under FELA.
FRSA, or the Federal Railroad Safety Act, protects workers’ jobs. One way rail companies discourage injury reports is by suspending or firing employees who report safety risks and injuries. The federal government, through a process administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, attempts to stop such unfair and illegal retaliatory job actions. In fact, OSH in April 2014 awarded a Wisconsin Central employee $352,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after determining that the railroad improperly suspended him for reporting a work-related back injury.
I share Goetsch’s opinion in calling FELA and FRSA tools and “clubs” employees and their legal advocates have at their disposal for holding corporations accountable to the individual who do the work that deliver their billions in annual revenue.