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CT, NY and New Jersey Whistleblower Law Blog

Railroad whistleblower rights within Federal Rail Safety Act

Federal law protects railroad workers in Connecticut, as in other places around the country, from retaliation when they express their concerns about their workplaces. Their protected activities include reporting accidents, injuries, safety problems, obstruction of medical treatment or fraud involving their employers. Once workers file a complaint as a whistleblower, as allowed by the Federal Rail Safety Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration assigns an investigator to the case.

To determine whether a person qualifies for whistleblower protection, the investigator collects evidence from co-workers, managers and other witnesses. The investigator will also seek a written reply from the employer about the situation. OSHA will eventually issue a finding about the case that either affirms or denies whistleblower status. A finding in favor of the employee could lead to a settlement that resolves the person's financial damages.

FRSA contributing factor requirement must be met

The Federal Rail Safety Act gives workers in Connecticut and across the country rights and remedies if they are retaliated against for protected whistleblowing actions. To succeed in a claim under the FRSA, the employee must demonstrate that a protected activity was a contributing factor to an adverse action by his or her employer. The term contributing factor means a factor that impacted or led to the adverse action in any way, on its own or in combination with other circumstances.

The employee isn't required to prove that engaging in the protected action was the most significant or the only reason for the employer's adverse action. Even in cases where the railroad had a legitimate reason for the adverse action, if the protected activity contributed in any way, then the contributing factor requirement is met. Railroad employees do not have to prove that their employer or supervisor had a conscious motive to retaliate.

Why railroad workers should be aware of qui tam actions

The federal government wants to know if people or businesses are defrauding it, and therefore defrauding taxpayers. The government is even willing to offer a monetary reward to workers who help uncover such behavior.

A qui tam action under the False Claims Act is a way for individuals to bring this type of behavior to light. So what exactly is qui tam? And how can a worker benefit from it?

Whistleblowers and the National Transit Systems Security Act

When employees, contractors or subcontractors of a public transportation agency in New York or any other state decide to report unlawful action by their employer, they are protected by provisions of the National Transit Systems Security Act, or NTSSA. This law states that whistleblowers shall be protected from discrimination, demotion, firing or other punishments when they perform this action. Employees are also protected if they refuse to comply with unlawful orders or decide to cooperate with a legal investigation.

The NTSSA is designed to protect employees when they report hazardous safety or security conditions. They are also protected from refusing to work in dangerous conditions or refusing to authorize the use of unsafe equipment or materials. These actions are only protected if the employee is acting in good faith and reasonably believes the hazard presents in imminent danger that can't be immediately removed.

New Jersey law could help injured workers

Many New York City workers who live in New Jersey commute to their jobs through public transportation. However, they may not know that if a transportation worker gets hurt, it may be difficult for that person to file a lawsuit against his or her employer. This is because NJ Transit has claimed that it had sovereign immunity because it was a government entity and thus it cannot be sued under the 1908 Federal Employers Liability Act.

However, a new law passed by New Jersey's legislature and signed by the governor in June 2019 prohibits NJ Transit from using that defense in many cases. There was a concern that workers may not bother to report unsafe work conditions if nothing could be done to fix them. Legislators decided to take action after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled for the agency in January 2019 in a case that was originally filed by a NJ Transit worker in 2011.

What you need to know about whistleblower rights

Railroad workers do a dangerous job. Fortunately, organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have set up regulations to make the industry safer.

Whistleblowers play an important role in enforcing these regulations. Regulatory agencies often rely on whistleblowers to expose unsafe working conditions and practices.

Proving liability in a FELA claim after an accident

Railroad workers across Connecticut and the U.S. are exposed to continual hazards and dangers every day. When you suffer a serious injury at work, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) provides you with the opportunity to collect compensation while you recover. However, the process to pursue this compensation can become complicated.

FELA requires injured railroad workers to prove that their injury was the result of the negligent actions of their employer. This could include the railroad in general, a manufacturer of equipment, the actions of a supervisor or fellow employees and more. Because of this requirement, it is critical to begin work on your claim immediately.

About FELA

The Federal Employers' Liability Act allows rail employees who are in interstate commerce in New York and the rest of the United States to pursue damages from their employers for injuries they sustain while on the job. It overrides any existing state legislation and stipulates that the injured workers have to prove that the employer was negligent. It also requires that any financial compensation that is awarded is to be reduced in proportion to the worker's failure in adhering to safety policies in the workplace.

Almost 85% of railroad workplace injury settlements are reached voluntarily. The other 15 percent of the railroad workplace injury cases can last as long as five years or more.

FRA pulls proposed rule regulating minimum size of train crews

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently withdrew a proposed rule from 2016 requiring at least two crew members on trains. The agency also barred states from requiring a minimum number of crew members on each train.

Officials originally hoped to improve performance and safety measures with the rule. However, government officials argued that little evidence showed that two-member crews made for safer trains. After the FRA withdrew the rule, the agency stated that regulating the size of train crews is unnecessary for the safety of operations.

Workers seeks $1 million in lawsuit

Railroad companies in New York, Connecticut and other states must ensure that employees enjoy a safe working environment. If a worker is hurt on the job, compensation may be warranted. One man in Missouri recently filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad, stating that he was injured in part because of an unsafe working environment. He also claimed that he didn't have the tools needed to do the job.

The plaintiff claims that the injury occurred in July 2016 when he was trying to move a tie and hurt his back. According to his lawsuit, which was filed on May 3, the injury resulted in significant medical bills. He is seeking more than $1 million in compensation. Furthermore, the lawsuit asks that he be reimbursed for legal costs as well as other relief allowed by law.

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