On August 14, 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act became law. Of interest to employees and their advocates is a new whistleblower provision. The Act creates a legal protection for employees who raise concerns about the safety of consumer products.
About 20 million Americans work for employers involved in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of consumer goods. Now they are protected from retaliation when they provide information about a violation of the Consumer Product Safety Act to their employer, the federal government, or any state attorney general. Employees who believe they have suffered unlawful retaliation have 180 days (from their first notice of the retaliatory act) to file a written complaint with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). However, if the safety violation involves toxic chemicals, and if the written complaint is filed within 30 days, then the employee can also seek punitive damages under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
This new CPS Act protections provides for jury trials, compensatory damages, temporary and final reinstatement, and attorney fees. Congress protects employees as long as they have a reasonable basis to believe there is a violation. If the company proves that there was no violation, they still cannot retaliate against employees who reasonably raised a concern. Also, complaining employees only have to show that the unlawful motive was a contributing factor in the retaliatory act. Then the employer will have to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that it would have imposed the same adverse action even if the employee had engaged in no protected activity.
If the Department of Labor takes more than 210 days to issue a final order, then the complainant can file a new action in U.S. District Court to seek a jury trial.
The National Whistleblower Center (NWC) is sponsoring a training seminar about this new law on November 21, 2008, in Washington, DC. It will be an opportunity to attorneys and other advocates to learn about the provisions of the new law, the Department of Labor’s plans for investigation and adjudication, and NWC’s strategies for maximizing the opportunities to get good results in the first court decisions under this new law. For more information about this seminar, see NWC Seminar on CPSIA.
About this Author: Richard Renner is a leading advocate for whistleblowers, with a long record of service for labor organizers and civil rights. He is a member of the Executive Board of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) and a former Co-Chair of NELA’s Whistleblower Committee. Prior to joining the National Whistleblowers Center in 2008, Mr. Renner worked for 27 years as a lawyer in Ohio where he was a founding partner in the firm of Tate and Renner. Mr. Renner is the author of several articles including: “Federal Environmental Whistleblower Complaints,” in, Employee Rights Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Summer 2002), pp. 29-34; “Whistleblower Book Helps with All Retaliation Cases,” a review of Concepts and Procedures in Whistleblower Law, NELA Employee Advocate, Spring 2001, p. 24; “Federal Whistleblower Complaints,” feature article for Ohio Employment Lawyers Ass’n Newsletter, October, 1996.