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How to Report Labor Violations

Written by Staff Writer

How to report labor violations

Employers must comply with OSHA standards detailed in the Act. If they do not, they put their businesses at risk of fines and penalties. The following are the basics of reporting a complaint to OSHA.

OSHA Standards

OSHA has set standards for most major safety concerns, and employers and employees must comply with the rules and regulations detailed in the OSH Act. The four major categories the Act covers are general industry, construction, maritime and agriculture.

If details about a specific hazard do not exist, employers and employees must adhere to the "general duty" clause, which is outlined in Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act. It states that each employer "shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

All industries share three basic requirements:

  • Access to medical exposure records: Employees, their representative and OSHA have the right to relevant medical records.
  • Personal protective equipment: Each industry category requires different equipment, but all workers are entitled to protective equipment that minimizes harm from workplace hazards. Employers must pay for the equipment, and employees should be properly trained on how to use it.
  • Hazard communication: When employees handle potentially hazardous materials, employers must evaluate the associated health risks. Materials associated with health and safety risks must be labeled, and customers that receive them must also receive a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Employers must train employees about the dangers presented by materials on the MSDS sheet.

That list only represents the general nature of OSHA standards. A specific list of employer responsibilities can be found on the OSHA website. Employers are also required to post injury reports from the previous year, even if no injuries occurred.

The OSH Act allows for and even encourages states to formulate individual safety programs that will function under state law but continue to be monitored. Furthermore, OSHA must approve the program. However, most state plans match federal plans.

Some state plans protect both private- and public-sector employees, while other OSHA-approved state plans only cover public-sector employees. This page provides more information about the state plan for your area.

Serious Hazards

Each employee has the right to report a violation for serious hazards. These are just some of the hazards employees may face in the workplace:

  • Confined space entry
  • Lack of necessary personal protective equipment
  • Respirator protection
  • Hearing conservation
  • Exposure to asbestos and other dangerous substances
  • Welding and cutting
  • Fall protection
  • Cave-in prevention
  • Machine guarding
  • Sharp object safety features
  • Employee training and knowledge of safety regulations

For more information about specific dangers employers must protect workers from, visit OSHA's Law and Regulations page.

Who Can File a Complaint?

OSHA protects nearly all United States employees through federal and sometimes state law, including workers in manufacturing, agriculture, law and medicine, charity, construction, longshoring, organized labor, Postal Service, local government, private education and anyone protected by OSHA's federal- or state-approved health and safety plans.

Excluded occupations for the OSH Act include:

  • Self-employed workers
  • Farms employing immediate family
  • Jobs where other federal laws mandate workers' safety, including mining, many transportation industries, and nuclear energy and weapon manufacturing
  • Local government and state employees not covered by an OSHA-approved state plan

Employees who experienced a violation may file a health or safety complaint. OSHA protects employees who report a violation and guarantees their identities will be kept confidential. Some employees may still feel uncomfortable reporting a violation; consequently, other relevant parties may file one on an employee's behalf.

The following are authorized employee representatives, as defined by OSHA:

  • Labor organizations
  • Attorneys
  • Members of the clergy
  • Social workers
  • Spouses or next of kin
  • Government officials
  • Nonprofit organizations

How to File a Complaint

Employees, representatives and anyone else aware of serious health or safety violations in the workplace have three options to file an OSHA complaint.

  1. Submit online via OSHA's electronic complaint form
  2. Download a PDF complaint form and fax or mail it to your local OSHA Regional or Area Office
  3. Call the violation in to your local OSHA office or 1-800-321-OSHA

Keep in mind: complaints signed and submitted to local OSHA offices are more likely to result in OSHA inspections. Therefore, sending your complaints to OSHA's national headquarters may not be the fastest or most efficient method. Complaints submitted online are routed to the appropriate local office. For more details about the type of information you must provide to file a complaint, see the OSHA complaint page.

When Can You File a Complaint?

Before filing an OSHA complaint, try to resolve your health and safety concern directly with your supervisor or manager, as it is the most effective and quickest way to correct workplace hazards. However, OSHA accepts complaints about hazards at all times. Discrimination complaints against those who filed a complaint, however, must be filed within 30 days of the alleged violation.

Filing a Discrimination Complaint

OSHA forbids employers from retaliating against employees for filing a complaint. OSHA offers protection against the following unpermitted adverse actions, including:

  • Firing
  • Blacklisting
  • Demoting
  • Denying overtime or promotion
  • Discipline
  • Denying benefits
  • Failing to hire or rehire
  • Intimidation
  • Making threats
  • Reassignment that affects promotion prospects
  • Reducing pay or hours

Those aren't the only practices prohibited under OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program, and the list is subject to change.

If you have been retaliated or discriminated against for filing an OSHA complaint about unsafe working conditions, you have the right to file a discrimination complaint. Some states allow workers to file a complaint under the OSH Act with both the federal OSHA and state OSHA plans. Similarly, these complaints can be filed online, by fax or mail via a downloaded form, by telephone call, by sending a letter or even filing in person at your local OSHA office.

During an Inspection

Employees retain these rights during an OSHA investigation:

  • A representative of employees should be allowed to accompany the tour
  • Employees may speak with the inspector privately
  • Employees may attend meetings with the inspector before and after inspection

An OSHA inspector will likely speak with several employees regarding safety and health conditions. OSHA encourages employees to mention hazards and any illnesses or injuries caused by them, to discuss past hazard complaints and to inform the inspector if conditions during inspection are not normal.

After an Inspection

The inspector will meet with the employee and employer to discuss findings and solutions to any found violations. The OSHA area director issues citations and notifications of proposed penalties to the employer for any violations. The citation will include actions that must be taken and a date they must be done by. The employer must post a copy of the citation for employees to see, which can list if it was a serious, willful or repeat offense.

Employees have a right to contest the citations to OSHA within 15 days of the posting, usually asking for a shorter allotted time to correct the issue. Employers may also challenge the validation of the citation.

State-Specific Reporting

Not only do federal laws outline labor law violations, but many states also have additional labor laws that apply to employees working within state borders. Start here if you would like to know how to report a state-level safety violation or workplace hazard for your area.