Pipeline Safety Whistleblower Protection
The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (“PSIA”) protects employees who blow the whistle on a violation of any order, regulation, or law related to pipeline safety.
The PSIA protects employees who:
- Provide information to the government about a violation of any order, regulation, or law related to pipeline safety;
- Refuse to participate in an activity that would violate any order, regulation, or law related to pipeline safety;
- Testify before Congress, or at any federal or state proceeding related to pipeline security; or
- Commence or participate in any proceeding related to pipeline safety.
An employee who refuses to perform a task because of a pipeline safety concern need not establish that the allegedly illegal practice in which he has refused to engage actually violated a Federal law relating to pipeline safety. He need only prove that his refusal to work “was properly communicated to the employer and was based on a reasonable and good faith belief that engaging in that work was a practice made unlawful by a Federal law relating to pipeline safety.” See Procedures for the Handling of Discrimination Complaints under Section 6 of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, 70 Fed. Reg. 17,889, 17,890-91 (Apr. 8, 2005)
Workers Protected Under the Pipeline Safety Whistleblower Law
The PSIA applies to all employees, contractors, and subcontractors of pipeline facilities.
A “pipeline facility” means a gas pipeline facility and a hazardous liquid pipeline facility. The regulations define a “gas pipeline facility” to include “a pipeline, a right of way, a facility, a building, or equipment used in transporting gas or treating gas during its transportation” and a “hazardous liquid pipeline facility” to include a “pipeline, a right of way, a facility, a building, or equipment used or intended to be used in transporting hazardous liquid.”
Proving a Violation of Pipeline Safety Whistleblower Protection Law
Tp establish a violation of the PSIA whistleblower protection provision, the whistleblowers must prove by a preponderance of evidence that:
- They engaged in protected conduct;
- The employer knew that they engaged in protected conduct;
- The employer took an adverse action; and
- The protected conduct was a contributing factor in the employer’s decision to take an adverse action against the whistleblower.
The PSIA prohibit employers from discharging, disciplining or discriminating against a whistleblowing employee regarding pay, terms or privileges of employment. This includes blacklisting, termination, suspension, demotion, reduction in salary, failure to hire, or any act that would deter a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity.
Remedies Available to Prevailing PSIA Whistleblowers
A prevailing PSIA whistleblower can recover:
- Lost wages and benefits,
- Damages for emotional distress and anguish, humiliation, harm to reputation, and other non-economic harms, and
- Attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses.
Filing a Pipeline Safety Whistleblower Retaliation Case
A PSIA whistleblowing complaint must be filed initially with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within 180 days of when the whistleblower knew or should have known that their employer was taking an adverse action against them. OSHA investigates the complaint and issues findings, which become final after 60 days unless the plaintiff objects and requests a hearing.