Whistleblower Law Blog

OSHA Finds BNSF, Rail Company Owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Liable in Three Retaliation Cases and Awards Damages to Employees

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found a railway company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway liable in three retaliation complaints brought by employees. OSHA ordered Berkshire Hathaway’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF) to pay more than $272,000 to these employees, plus various non-monetary relief.

OSHA found that BNSF violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) when it reprimanded a conductor who missed work in accordance with a physician’s treatment plan. In addition to ordering BNSF to pay $12,000 in monetary damages ($2,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees), OSHA ordered BNSF to purge the employee’s personnel record of all disciplinary information, and to distribute whistleblower rights information to all employees.

In a second case, OSHA found that BNSF violated the FRSA by wrongfully terminating an apprentice electrician after the employee reported a shoulder injury. BNSF fired the employee after the employee reported the injury, which required an emergency room visit. Following the hospital visit, the employee was medically restricted from returning to work. BNSF alleged that the employee had been dishonest about former unrelated workplace injuries, but OSHA ruled in the employee’s favor.

OSHA ordered the company to pay the employee $225,385 in back wages and damages, remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record, and provide whistleblower rights information to all employees. The monetary damages consisted of $50,000 in compensatory damages, $150,000 in punitive damages, more than $22,305 in back wages and interest, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Finally, OSHA found that BNSF retaliated against a worker after the employee reported a work-related injury and submitted a physician’s treatment plan. The former employee submitted a complaint to OSHA alleging violations of the anti-retaliation provisions of the FRSA. OSHA determined the work-related injury report and treatment plan were contributing factors in terminating the employee.

OSHA ordered BNSF to pay more than $30,000 in back wages and damages, reinstate the worker at the same or an equivalent job, restore seniority and benefits, and pay attorneys’ fees.

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