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New Legislation Drafted to Increase Mine Safety Following Death of 29 Miners at Upper Big Branch Mine

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On June 29, 2010, a discussion draft of new federal legislation to increase mine safety was released.  The legislation, introduced by Senators Harkin, Murray, and Rockefeller is intended to “improve compliance with mine and occupational safety and health laws, empower workers to raise safety concerns, prevent future mine and other workplace tragedies, [and] establish rights of families and victims of workplace accidents . . .”

The bill, entitled the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010, contains two whistleblower provisions.  The first provision prohibits an employer from retaliating against “any miner, or other employee of an operator, representative of miners, or applicant for employment,” who files a complaint with the employer, employer’s agent, representative of the miner, or government agency.  Individuals are also protected if they participate in an investigation or refuse to violate the law or perform duties which are reasonably believed to pose a safety or health hazard.  Relief available to aggrieved employees includes reinstatement with back pay, expungement of any derogatory references, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and “exemplary damages where appropriate.” 

The second whistleblower provision in the bill would amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C. 660(c)(1), to protect employees who refuse to perform their duties due to a “reasonable apprehension that performing such duties would result in serious injury to, or serious impairment of the health of, the employee or other employees.”  Remedies available to employees would be the same as under the first provision. 

Notably, the bill would also open the possibility of criminal penalties for knowing retaliation against workers who raise safety concerns and require employees to undergo one hour annually of “miner’s rights training.” 

The official summary of the bill is available here, and the discussion draft is available here.

The employment lawyers at The Employment Law Group® law firm have substantial experience representing whistleblowers.  To learn more about the firm’s Whistleblower Retaliation Practice, click here.

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