Did You Know That OSHA Repairs The Holes in SOX?

There is an old saying that “You learn something new everyday.” (For those of you with memory problems that statement is “You learn something knew everyday”, LOL) Well today I did. I got One Minute Memo from the Seyfarth Shaw law firm entitled OSHA Steps Up Enforcement of Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Claims. My first reaction to that headline was WHAT????  What does OSHA have to do with enforcing Sarbanes-Oxley violations? I was truly puzzled. What does violations of a financial disclosure law have to do with the agency that does safety inspections??
Do you know the answer? (Before you read the answer.)
Well it turns out that anyone that claims violations of Sarbanes-Oxley, in particular claims retaliation for reporting violations, must make the claim with the US Department of Labor. OSHA is part of the Department of Labor. And they just happen to have a lot of experience in investigating claims of retaliation for safety violations. As quoted in The Whistleblower Provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 by George R. Salem and Laura M. Franze:

“In the past, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reviewed the bulk of the complaints received by DOL, probably because most of the current whistleblower statutes administered by DOL involve allegations of safety violations. OSHA also has significant experience in handling allegations of retaliation. It is possible that a new unit, possibly one with specific financial experience, will be set up to handle initial investigations under Sarbanes-Oxley. However, OSHA currently has jurisdiction. Under current practices, the DOL investigates and then issues a “determination letter.” If the letter determination is not accepted by both parties, or the case is not otherwise resolved, the matter is assigned to the Office of ALJ and goes to administrative hearing. These hearings are relatively formal and resemble full-blown trials.”
This was written in 2003. Given the One Minute Memo from Seyfarth Shaw it is apparent that no new unit was created. So if you are a public company who retaliates against employees for reporting financial violations you will be dealing with OSHA. Given that the Obama Administration Department of Labor has already announce increased enforcement in Wage & Hour and workplace safety this is an indication that SOX enforcement may also be stepped up. As a result Seyfarth Shaw recommends “…employers covered by SOX … take steps to minimize the risk of claims alleging retaliation for protected whistleblowing. In particular, covered employers should promulgate appropriate ethics and anti-retaliation policies, train supervisors to comply with those policies, and implement hotlines and other methods by which complaints can be fielded and appropriately resolved without actual or perceived retaliation.”
The lesson here is to make sure you darn your own SOX before OSHA comes in and sticks it to you!

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