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How to Report Labor Violations

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employees and their authorized representatives have the right to file a complaint about serious hazards and request an OSHA official to visit and inspect their workplaces and investigate concerns. Employers must comply with OSHA standards detailed in the act, and they put their businesses at risk of fines and penalties if they do not. 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 employee must comply with the rules and regulations detailed in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. 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 [Section 5(a)(1)] "general duty" clause, which says that employers "shall furnish . . . a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees".

Three requirements are similar for all industries:

  • Access to medical exposure records: employees, their representative, and OSHA have the right to relevant medical records.
  • Personal protective equipment: each of the four major categories requires different equipment, but, regardless of industry, all employees are entitled to wear designated protective equipment to protect him or her from workplace hazards and should be properly trained in equipment's use
  • Hazard communications: if handling potentially hazardous material, evaluations of the product must be conducted. Material found hazardous must be marked as so and customers of the material must receive a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Employers must train employees about the dangers presented in materials on the MSDS sheet.

Employers are required to post injury reports from the previous year, even if no injuries occurred.

The 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 approved the program. However, most state plans match federal plans.

The following states have OSHA-approved, individual programs for the private and public sector: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York have OSHA-approved state plans that only cover public sector workers.

Serious Hazards

Each employee has the right to report a violation for any of the following serious hazards:

  • Confined space entry
  • Necessary personal protective equipment must be readily available
  • Respirator protection
  • Hearing conservation
  • Asbestos and other dangerous substances, exposure prevention
  • Arc and welding cutting
  • Fall protection
  • Cave-in prevention
  • Machines must have guards
  • Sharp objects must have built-in safety features to prevent wounds
  • Employees must understand safety regulations to protect themselves

For more information about specific dangers employee must be protected against, visit OSHA Law and Regulation's page.

Who Can File a Complaint?

OSHA protects nearly all United States employees through federal and sometimes state law, including but not limited to 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 Occupational Safety and Health Act 1970 are:

  • Self-employed
  • Farms employing immediate family
  • Jobs where other federal laws mandates workers' safety, including mining, many transportation industries, and nuclear energy and weapon manufacture
  • Local government and state employees, unless under an OSHA-approved state plan

Employees who experienced a violation may file a health or safety complaint. Though OSHA guarantees their identities can be kept confidential, OSHA protects employees who report a violation. 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 organization
  • Attorney
  • Member of the clergy
  • Social worker
  • Spouse or next of kin
  • Government official
  • Nonprofit organization

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 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 Compliant

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

  • 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

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 downloaded form, by telephone call, or by sending a letter to 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 employer for any violations. The citation will include actions that must be taken and a date they must be done by. Employer must post a copy of the citation for employees to see, which can list if the offense is serious, willful, or repeat.

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 have additional labor laws that apply to employees working within state borders. For example, California workers can report labor law violations to the Bureau of Field Enforcement via mail or in person for the city/location where the violation occurred. And if employees in New York experience retaliation after reporting a labor law violation, they are encouraged to contact the NYS Department of Labor, Division of Labor Standards at 1-888-52-LABOR or LSAsk@labor.ny.gov.