In a major decision clarifying the scope of the Federal Rail Safety Act, OSHA confirms that a railroad’s denial, delay, or interference with an injured employee’s medical treatment constitutes adverse action recoverable under FRSA Section (a)(4). Section (a)(4) protects employees from adverse action due to the reporting of a work-related injury, and OSHA now recognizes that a railroad’s interference with an injured employee’s medical treatment is a form of impermissible adverse action prohibited by Section (a)(4).

Vinny Ruffolo is a laborer at Metro North Railroad’s Harmon Diesel Shop. After he reported a cut finger injury, Metro North interfered with his medical treatment, assigned him duties contrary to his medical restrictions, and harassed him for following the orders of his treating doctor. Despite the fact no discipline was involved, OSHA nevertheless ruled Metro North violated Section (a)(4)’s prohibition against adverse action related to the reporting of an injury. The words of OSHA are worth quoting:

The evidence suggests that Metro North’s actions were motivated, at least in part, by a desire to minimize the injury because by doing so, Metro North could avoid reporting the injury and any lost time to the Federal Rail Administration (FRA). . . . Metro North’s actions here send the message to this employee and all other employees that they are better off not reporting injuries at all. Such actions, if they successfully dissuade an employee from reporting an injury, result in the skewing of information provided to the FRA and potentially jeopardize employee safety.

OSHA went on to note that such conduct demonstrates “a reckless disregard for the rights of its employees to report a work-place injury,” and “demonstrates this was not a random act but rather an extension of an entrenched culture to retaliate against employees who report work-related injuries. . . . the Facilities Director’s deliberate actions were intended to chill the workforce and dissuade employees from reporting future accidents, and calls for the imposition of punitive damages.”

OSHA’s Press Release states: “Metro-North’s actions in this case are unacceptable and send a message of intimidation to its workforce,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York. “Railroad employees must be free to report injuries without fear that their employers will harass them, ignore medical instructions or force them to work under conditions that could impair the healing process or cause more harm.”

Bottom line? Even in the absence of any disciplinary action, the FRSA protects employees who report work-related injuries from interference with their medical treatment. For the full OSHA Decision in Ruffolo v. Metro North Railroad.