Railroads have a long history of trying to intimidate their employees so workplace injuries are not reported and legitimate FELA claims are not pursued. Employees that file claims are quickly the target of threats and discipline for being “accident prone” or “unsafe.” In the past, the worker could only challenge the railroad’s harassment through the grievance process. The grievance process in the railroad industry can take months, and even if the employee is successful, the most the railroad would have to pay is the employee’s backpay. Under these circumstances, many employees who are hurt at work do everything they can to avoid reporting injuries.
The FRSA was amended specifically to address this problem, and to provide protection to injured employees so they can pursue FELA claims without fear of retribution. How does the FRSA accomplish this goal? An employee who proves that a railroad carrier has violated the FRSA is entitled to “all relief necessary to make the employee whole.” Damages available under the act include reinstatement, restoration of seniority, backpay with interest, and compensatory damages including litigation costs, expert witness fees, and attorneys’ fees. In addition, the FRSA permits recovery of punitive damages in some cases of up to $250,000. Faced with the potential of paying such significant awards, railroads will be forced to deal with supervisors who try to intimidate employees into not reporting legitimate claims. In this way, the FRSA can be a viable deterrent to harassment in the railroad industry.