Norfolk Southern Railroad’s illegal practice of charging employees who report injuries with “false and misleading statements” is catching up with it. In the past three months, OSHA has ordered $2,154,000 in damages against Norfolk Southern for violating the Federal Rail Safety Act rights of seven employees. That is an average of $308,000 per violation, not even counting the cost of NS’s own attorney fees. And experience teaches those FRSA damages will double or triple at the hands of judges and juries, with NS also paying well into the six figures for the attorney fees of both sides.
But apparently paying up to a million dollars per FRSA violation is worth it to Norfolk Southern so long as it can keep chilling the reporting of injuries by its employees. Here are excerpts from OHSA’s official Findings in two of the most recent cases:
The evidence shows that Norfolk Southern intentionally presented an extraordinary and fraudulent theory that it was not physically possible for the employee to have sustained an injury in the manner he described. . . . On several previous occasions, OSHA has found that Norfolk Southern violated the whistleblower protection provisions of FRSA when it brought disciplinary charges against employees who reported workplace injuries, charged those employees with falsifying or making misleading or conflicting statements about their injuries, and terminated their employment.
Norfolk Southern’s retaliatory conduct towards employees who report injuries and/or illnesses has created a chilling effect in the workplace. On several previous occasions, OSHA has cited Norfolk Southern for violating the whistleblower protection provisions of FRSA. Norfolk Southern’s continued callous disregard for employees’ protected rights under FRSA warrants significant punitive damages.
Firing workers for reporting an injury is not only illegal, it endangers other workers. When workers are discouraged from reporting injuries, no investigation into the cause of an injury or possible future prevention can occur. Railroad workers must be able to report work-related injuries without fear of retaliation. . . . Railroads who break the law will be held accountable.
And at least for now, being held accountable for up to a million dollars per FRSA violation seems perfectly acceptable for Norfolk Southern as long as it can continue its culture of retaliation against workers who report injuries.