The FRSA (Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 USC 20109) just keeps getting better and better. The FRSA is now amended to provide that:

A railroad may not deny, delay, or interfere with the medical treatment of an employee who is injured during the course of employment. In particular, a railroad may not discipline or threaten to discipline an employee for following the orders or treatment plan of a treating physician. (The full text of this amendment is available after the jump).

This is a fundamental shift in the balance of power between rail management and rail labor. Think about it. Up to now, whenever an employee reports a FELA on-the-job injury, railroads like Metro North, LIRR, New Jersey Transit, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, and Amtrak order the injured employee to travel long distances to the railroad’s medical facility, even if such travel violates the treatment plan of the employee’s treating doctors. Once there, the employee is given a perfunctory lookover by a non-physician and sent back home. This is a form of harassment designed to discourage employees from reporting injuries in the first place. And if the employee follows his doctor’s orders and stays home, the railroad charges the employee with insubordination and disciplines him, up to and including firing.

Here’s a recent example. True story, I’m not making this up. An injured employee in Connecticut was ordered to report immediately to the Metro North medical facility in Grand Central Terminal. His treating doctor faxed down a note confirming that his patient required three days of bed rest. Metro North refused to accept the note because, and I quote, "It doesn’t say that you can’t travel on a train" (apparently Metro North now allows beds in its commuter trains). Metro North told the employee he is not excused from the appointment and "You will be disciplined if up don’t show up."

Well, railroads can no longer play that game. The FRSA now prohibits a railroad from disciplining an employee for following the orders or treatment plan of his treating doctor. So when an employee has a note from his doctor stating he can not travel, the railroad can not force him to travel to its medical facility. Or if the treating doctor says no light duty, the railroad can not force the employee to work light duty. Or if the treating doctor says his patient needs more treatment before returning to work, the railroad can not force him back to work. 

Another form of abuse is when railroads routinely "deny, delay, and interfere with an injured employee’s medical treatment" by arbitrarily declaring his on-the-job injury "non-occupational." This means the railroad will not pay for the medical treatment prescribed by the employee’s treating doctor. This forces the employee to try to have his regular medical insurance pay for his treatment, but such insurance is not supposed to cover on-the-job injury medical expenses. Many medical insurance plans limit the doctors you can see, and all require various out-of-pocket co-payments. As a result, this inevitably denies, delays, or interferes with the employee’s medical treatment. And the railroad improperly evades payment of the medical expenses by placing it on the backs of the insurance company and the employee.

Metro North Railroad is notorious for this abuse, and in fact the Metro North Labor Council has been investigating this arguably fraudulent conduct by the Railroad for some time. Now, railroads like Metro North will be sued under the FRSA whenever they declare an on-the-job FELA injury to be "non-occupational," with the prospect of punitive damages up to $250,000 for each occurrence.

There is more to this powerful amendment to the FRSA (keep tuned, details to follow). But one thing is clear: in the eternal struggle between rail labor and management, the balance of power has now shifted over to labor’s side when it comes to controlling the course of an employee’s medical treatment. Start spreading the word so labor can enforce its new won rights to the fullest extent allowed by law. 


(a) IN GENERAL.—Section 20109 is amended—
(1) by redesignating subsections (c) through (i) as subsections
(d) through (j), respectively; and
(2) by inserting after subsection (b) the following:

"(1) PROHIBITION.—A railroad carrier or person covered under this section may not deny, delay, or interfere with the medical or first aid treatment of an employee who is injured during the course of employment. If transportation to a hospital is requested by an employee who is injured during the course of employment, the railroad shall promptly arrange to have the injured employee transported to the nearest hospital where the employee can receive safe and appropriate medical care.

"(2) DISCIPLINE.—A railroad carrier or person covered under this section may not discipline, or threaten discipline to, an employee for requesting medical or first aid treatment, or for following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician, except that a railroad carrier’s refusal to permit an employee to return to work following medical treatment shall not be considered a violation of this section if the refusal is pursuant to Federal Railroad Administration medical standards for fitness of duty or, if there are no pertinent Federal Railroad Administration standards, a carrier’s medical standards for fitness for duty. For purposes of this paragraph, the term ‘discipline’ means to bring charges against a person in a disciplinary proceeding, suspend, terminate, place on probation, or make note of reprimand on an employee’s record."