On April 18, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced new procedural rules for investigating any whistleblower claims that specifically focus on food safety. These procedures are outlined under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Under these new rules, employees who claim they’ve been retaliated against after exposing food safety violations will now have the right to financial compensation, attorney’s fees, reinstatement and a jury trial in federal court. The legislation applies to all employees who work in the food industry, whether it’s manufacturing, processing, transporting, packing, distributing, receiving, importing or otherwise.
How do the claims work?
Any worker who believes he or she has been retaliated against for disclosing a potential food safety violation will file their complaint with OSHA. Claims will then proceed from there, potentially reaching court — but typically being settled before court.
Protections under the FMSA will also cover any employees who testify on the violations, but did not have a role in discovering or reporting them, along with employees who assist in the investigation or simply refused to participate in any activities that violated food safety law.
To qualify for protection from retaliation, any employee who alleges FSMA violations must have a reasonable, good faith belief that statutes were not followed. The individual does not have to be correct in the allegations to be subject to these protections — there just has to be valid reason to believe a violation could have occurred. Thus, the would-be whistleblower can still file a complaint with OSHA and seek whistleblower defenses even if the company did not actually break the law.
To learn more about these new protections available to food safety whistleblowers, consult a dedicated Dallas attorney at Whistleblower Law for Managers.