Today the House of Representatives is considering a vote on the Offshore Oil and Gas Worker Whistleblower Legislation Act (H.R. 5851), a bill that was sped to the floor this week. No committee hearing, no mark-up, no careful consideration and no debate other than a few minutes on the floor. So what is this bill and what does it do? The bill expands the OCS Lands Act to provide new whistleblower protections for all employees of any company engaged in supporting or carrying out exploration of oil and natural gas in our nation’s Outer Continental Shelf. However, this bill goes far beyond affirming a process for employees to go to the Department of Labor to seek protection from retaliation, creating an entirely new mechanism that allows employees to sue their employers in district court.
As we’ve noted previously, few whistleblower claims put forward that actually have merit. The language of this legislation will significantly increase the threat of litigation for a wide array of employers, suits from a new universe of employees far beyond oil rig workers.
Many of the bill’s proponents assert that oil rig workers now have no whistleblower protections. And in truth, there are many questions as to the application of existing whistleblower protections. As Congressman John Kline (R-MN) observed on the House floor:
Safety on offshore oil rigs is overseen by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, unlike most workplaces, where safety is overseen by OSHA. As a result, it is not clear whether these workers are covered by the OSH Act’s whistleblower protections or any of the 17 other statutes enforced by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Some might argue oil rig workers are covered by the Maritime Transportation and Security Act, while others point to a 1983 agreement in which OSHA retained whistleblower authority for these workers.
More importantly, as Rep. Kline notes, these questions could be answered if the bill were to go through regular order, with its committee hearings, research, testimony and inquiry. Unfortunately, the bill and its hastily cobbled together provisions are being rushed to the floor for a vote.