Under the False Claims Act, those who submit or coerce another person to submit false claims for government funds are liable for severe penalties, including civil penalties up to $11,000 for each false claim made. False claims and whistleblower laws are no joke, and OSHA is cracking down in Region VII.
OSHA has recently launched a pilot program in Region VII and titled it W-SVEP. The program became effective May 27, 2016.
W-SXVEP was designed by OSHA as an enforcement mechanism for alleged severe violators of whistleblower retaliation regulations. Region VII includes employers in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, and those companies under federal enforcement in Iowa.
The program is modeled after another violator program: the National Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which puts employers on a public log for certain alleged violations of OSHA safety regulations.
OSHA has elaborated that employers will only be placed on the W-SVEP log if certain criteria are met first.
However, this isn’t the first time OSHA has put its foot down when it comes to whistleblower retaliation and violation.
Earlier this month, OSHA fined one company $105,000 due to their retaliation against an employee who had brought up mold concerns.
IFCO Services N.A. (IFCO) agreed to pay the fee violating Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act when it ended the employment of Debra Walters, an office manager who had put forth a complaint about mold exposure.
When Walters alerted management to the suspected mold that was growing behind a series of filing cabinets, the company failed to take any corrective or preventative action.
After an anonymous complaint was sent by Walters to OSHA, the company ran tests and found active toxigenic mold growth behind the filing cabinets. However, they still took no action, even when Walters raised concerns once more.
Shortly after, Walters was terminated from her position at IFCO. Fortunately, an investigation led OSHA to bring a whistleblower retaliation complaint against IFCO under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Though this situation was resolved, many others haven’t been, which is partly why OSHA has the new pilot program.
If companies have any significant whistleblower cases related to a fatality, work-related injuries, or have more than three merit whistleblower cases within the past three years, they are subject to the W-SVEP log.