BISMARCK, ND – A federal whistleblower investigation has found the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality illegally retaliated against an environmental scientist after they reported safety concerns about the public water system to management and later contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined the DEQ’s actions violated federal law that protects employees who share water safety information and ordered the department to remove the written reprimand from the employees’ personnel file.

OSHA investigators learned that the employee – who worked for the agency for more than seven years – raised safety concerns to their supervisor over a six-month period and alerted the EPA about defects in reporting and data collection and concerns that sanitary violations were being downgraded to minor violations. The supervisor requested the employee stop communicating with the EPA and, on July 1, 2022, issued him a written reprimand for contacting the EPA.

“Employees have the right to report potential violations related to safe drinking water and it is illegal for employers to retaliate against those who do,” explained OSHA Regional Administrator Jennifer S. Rous in Denver. “Our investigation and actions on the environmental scientist’s behalf reflect the U.S. Department of Labor’s determination to make sure workers’ rights are protected.”

Based in Bismarck, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality is tasked with protecting the state’s air and water resources.

The department and the employee may file objections or request a hearing with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receiving the agency’s order.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and more than 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, criminal antitrust and anti-money laundering laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.

Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.

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