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Audit finds major flaws in CA retaliation program

Posted on Aug 28, 2012
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Federal report finds major flaws in state’s retaliation enforcement program
Incomplete and sloppy investigations leave workers without protection

Oakland, CA – Federal OSHA’s long-awaited audit of California’s “State Whistleblower Program,” housed in the Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE), was released today. Its findings confirm what many suspected, and what low-wage workers who object to unsafe, unhealthy working conditions know all too well: that problems with the Division’s handling of employer retaliation complaints, previously identified by Worksafe and others, remain endemic in California workplaces.

“The lack of an effective, reliable enforcement system compounds the chilling effect that retaliation has on workers,” said Jora Trang, Worksafe Managing Attorney. “If you can’t voice concerns, there’s little chance you can exert any of your other rights in the workplace.”  

Among the issues cited by federal OSHA were:

  • Failures to conduct adequate interviews of parties and witnesses, to obtain and analyze evidence properly, and to investigate complaints in a timely fashion;
  • Inadequate documentation, case reports, and training of investigators and supervisors; and
  • Problems related to notifying and communicating with key parties.

The audit, conducted by Region IX’s Whistleblower team, evaluated representative DLSE case files from five different offices -- San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Van Nuys, and Long Beach.

Whistleblower protections were included in the OSHA law to ensure that workers could actively identify and report hazards, recognizing that even in good times there would never be enough inspectors to cover all workplaces. But problems in the DLSE retaliation unit go far beyond staffing levels and case backlogs.

“While previous audits identified serious problems, this is the first report to give us detailed information explaining why so few cases are being decided in favor of the workers who file these complaints,” observed Gail Bateson, Worksafe Executive Director. “The heart of the problem is the failure of investigators to conduct thorough and competent investigations. While we commend DLSE for its recent efforts to educate workers about their rights, the Division’s top priority must be ensuring that there is a process in place to give them a fair chance of getting a proper investigation.”

The audit can be read in full here, and Worksafe's summary of its findings here.

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Worksafe is a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting people from job-related hazards and empowering them to advocate for the right to a safe and healthy workplace. For more information, visit www.worksafe.org.

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