The Federal Rail Safety Act protects whistleblowers who work for railroad companies in Connecticut and elsewhere. The act recognizes that workers should have the right to report problems without fear of retaliation from employers. A recent ruling by a federal appeals court has affirmed the contributing factor standard in a case involving a railway employee protesting his dismissal after making an injury report. The standard states that a worker's protected conduct needs only to contribute to an employer's choice to punish the worker.
Any federal contractor who receives government funds, directly or indirectly, is subject to the provisions of the False Claims Act. This is true for contractors working in New York and across the country. The FCA often governs transportation infrastructure projects because they often involve significant federal funding. Common transportation infrastructure projects include publicly funded capital improvements for railroads as well as the renovation or construction of bridges, tunnels, stations, ports and highways. In metropolitan New York City, for example, a number of large transportation infrastructure projects might be running at any given time.
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.
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.
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.
Some New York whistleblowers may pay a high price for the information they share even though there are legal protections in place. However, one attorney who works to protect whistleblowers says they tend to act from a place of conscience. Furthermore, the number of whistleblowers has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, and the public perception of them has become significantly more positive. Once seen as somewhat on the fringes and even as betraying their colleagues, whistleblowers today are more likely to be seen as public heroes.
A decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals has been called an important win for whistleblower protections. Employees in Connecticut and New York are protected from retaliation by employers for reporting some types of activity or conditions. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rendered its opinion in Frost v. BNSF Railway Co., rejecting efforts by employers to establish a stricter burden on whistleblowers. The employers in the case attempted to advance a defense based on the honest belief of employers. The court disagreed.
Whistleblowers in Connecticut are sometimes rewarded if the government is able to recover funds lost to fraud. One way this is done is with what's referred to as a qui tam lawsuit, which is brought under the False Claims Act. Cases of this nature can be an effective way for the government stop various types of fraud. The individual who initiated the action receives a portion of damages, penalties, and awards that come from the government's litigation efforts.
Representatives of businesses and workers in the trucking and railway industries have said that increased awareness of whistleblower rules could improve the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regulatory efforts. With the amount of influence the industries have in New York and around the country, improved awareness could have a major impact. The specific issue is OSHA's plan to bolster its program for whistleblower protection. The agency held a session on June 12 at the headquarters of the Department of Labor, during which representatives set forth their cases.
People who live in connecticut might have heard of whistleblowing but may be uncertain what the term means. A whistleblower is someone who exposes scandals and fraud. Many whistleblowers report the illegal conduct of their employers to the relevant federal and state agencies.