H.R. 1649: Offshore Oil and Gas Worker Whistleblower Protection Act of 2013
Currently there is no federal law that protects oil and gas workers if they are retaliated against after they blow the whistle on workplace health and safety violations on the Outer Continental Shelf. Workers on oil rigs like the Deepwater Horizon risk losing their jobs if they report dangerous workplace conditions. The workers performing clean-up activities on the Outer Continental Shelf similarly have no protections against employer retaliation for raising health and safety concerns. Workers must be protected when they raise concerns about unsafe working conditions, and they must have the right to stop working if they fear they could be injured or killed. Workers themselves are in the best position to discover safety hazards. You can’t have inspectors at all facilities at all times. These workers are enforcement agencies’ eyes and ears when it comes to safety compliance.
Deepwater Horizon workers had safety concerns prior to the explosion. Jason Anderson, who died when the rig exploded, told both his wife and father that working conditions were not safe on the Deepwater Horizon. According to his widow Shelley’s testimony before the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, Jason was reluctant to talk about these concerns while on the rig and told her: “I can’t talk about it now. The walls are too thin.” This fear was so strong that Jason reportedly talked to Shelley about his will and getting his affairs in order not long before the explosion.
The Offshore Oil and Gas Worker Whistleblower Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 1649) extends whistleblower protections to employees of employers working on the Outer Continental Shelf performing oil and gas exploration, drilling, production, or oil spill cleanup.
The bill is modeled after other modern whistleblower statutes and would:
- Prohibit an employer from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee who reports to the employer, or a federal or state government official that he or she reasonably believes the employer is violating the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).
- Protect covered employees who report injuries or unsafe conditions related to the offshore work, refuse to work based on a good faith belief that the offshore work could cause injury or impairment or a spill, or refuse to perform work in a manner that they believe violates the OCSLA.
- Establish a process for an employee to appeal an employer’s retaliation by filing a complaint with the Secretary of Labor, and allowing a jury trial if the Secretary fails to act in a timely manner.
- Make an aggrieved employee eligible for reinstatement, back pay and compensatory and consequential damages, and, where appropriate, exemplary damages.
- Require employers to post a notice that explains employee rights and remedies under this Act and provide training to the employees of these rights.