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Congresswoman Woolsey Introduces Landmark Whistleblower Protection Legislation

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Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, has introduced robust and comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation for private sector employees. H.R. 4047 would close loopholes in existing federal whistleblower protection statutes and protect employees who disclose threats to public health and safety, financial fraud, insurance fraud, or violations of environmental protection laws, food and drug safety laws, or transportation safety laws. A section-by-section analysis of the legislation from the Education and Workforce Subcommittee is available here. The bill would also create a new office at DOL to investigate whistleblower complaints. While there are many hardworking OSHA investigators who try to conduct thorough investigations of whistleblower complaints, OSHA has shown itself often unwilling and unable to enforce existing whistleblower protection laws. This is due in part to OSHA applying incorrect legal standards and OSHA’s propensity to adopt employers’ pretextual allegations against whistleblowers instead of conducting investigations. Under the current Administration, OSHA has found for employers in more than 90% of whistleblower claims and now appears to require smoking gun evidence to find for an employee. DOL’s failure to enforce whistleblower protection laws has real consequences for public health and safety. Indeed, Congressional testimony about recent mine explosions and collapses revealed that many of the miners killed in these tragic accidents were aware of violations of mine safety laws, but were afraid to report such violations for fear of losing their jobs. Hopefully, Congress will promptly enact H.R. 4047, and in the interim, hopefully DOL will consider enforcing existing whistleblower protection laws, rather than undermining them. The Government Accountability Project has done a terrific job informing Congress of the flaws and loopholes in existing whistleblower protection laws and working with the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections to devise appropriate legislative corrections. GAP’s testimony concerning the inadequacy of existing whistleblower protection laws is available here.

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