The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has rolled back Obama-era guidance on safety incentive programs and post-accident drug testing. OSHA has a rule prohibiting employer retaliation against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illness. In its latest guidance (a memorandum published October 11, 2018), OSHA clarified that workplace safety incentive programs and post-accident drug testing do not violate that anti-retaliation rule. This differs from OSHA’s approach in previous guidance, where OSHA took the position that, in some circumstances, safety incentive policies and post-accident drug and alcohol testing could be a retaliatory practice for deterring employees from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses. OSHA has changed its course, but the latest guidance is still not a model of clarity.

Specifically, OSHA most recently stated that most incentive programs and instances of workplace drug testing are permissible. However, OSHA warned that such programs can be unlawful and retaliatory if they seek “to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health.” The new guidance supersedes any other interpretive documents, to the extent they are inconsistent.

Safety Incentive Programs

OSHA clarified and reinforced that incentive programs can be an important tool to promote workplace safety and health. Positive programs, such as those that reward workers for reporting near-misses or hazards or encourage involvement in a safety and health management system, are always permissible, according to the memorandum.

However, the line is less clear regarding rate-based incentive programs (e.g., rewards with a prize/bonus for an injury-free month) and negative action against an employee (e.g., withholding a prize/bonus because of a reported injury). OSHA’s position is that rate-based incentive programs are permissible so long as they are not implemented in a manner that discourages reporting. OSHA claims it would not cite the employer if the employer has implemented “adequate precautions” to ensure that employees feel that they are free to report an injury or illness. The question becomes whether the employer has “adequate precautions” to counterbalance any inadvertent deterrent effect under a rate-based incentive program.

Workplace Drug Testing

OSHA has provided more definitive guidance for drug testing. The following will be deemed permissible:

  • Random drug testing.
  • Drug testing unrelated to the reporting of a work-related injury or illness.
  • Drug testing under a state workers’ compensation law.
  • Drug testing under other federal law, such as a U.S. Department of Transportation rule.
  • Drug testing to evaluate the root cause of a workplace incident that harmed or could have harmed employees.

OSHA has clarified that if an employer chooses to use drug testing to investigate an incident, the employer should test all employees whose conduct could have contributed to the incident, not just the employee(s) who reported injuries.

The attorneys of the McNees Labor & Employment Group are ready to assist your Company with developing OSHA-compliant safety incentives and drug testing policies.