Employers are well aware of the penalties for not complying with the Affordable Care Act. But firms that retaliate against staffers for reporting Obamacare violations will also face other stiff penalties.
And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) just issued the interim final rules on the whistleblower provisions of the health care reform law.
The new rules issued by OSHA, a division of the DOL, would establish a number of procedures and time frames for handling retaliation complaints, OSHA investigations, as well as things like appeals and reviews.
And these rules could put guilty employers on the hook for back pay awards and compensatory damages.
Expanded whistleblower protections
The Obamacare whistleblower protections were already in place before OSHA’s rules were published on Feb. 22. However, the interim final rules aim to expand on the current employee protections.
Specifically, the OSHA final regs would provide greater protection to employees if they engage in certain protected activities under the Affordable Care Act.
One such activity is when an employee receives a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction while enrolled in a qualified health plan through a health exchange if his or her employer doesn’t offer health care coverage that is “affordable.”
In addition, the whistleblower provisions protect workers from retaliation if they took the following actions:
- Provided — or are about to provide — their employer, the federal government or state attorneys info related to any violation of the health reform law’s health care coverage mandate, guaranteed availability and nondiscrimination rules
- Testified — or are about to testify — in proceedings related to a violation
- Assisted or participated — or are about to assist/participate — in a proceeding, or
- Objected to, or refused to participate in, any activity, policy, practice or assigned task that they reasonably believed to be a violation of the health care reform law.
In 2014, the whistleblower protections will be extended to block retaliation regarding workers’ compensation, terms, conditions or other privileges of employment by health insurance issuers. And that protection applies even in cases where the health insurance issuer doesn’t employ the worker(s).
Note: Currently, the whistleblower provisions only apply to the insurer’s own employees.
Window for comments
Although, the OSHA release said the rules go into effect immediately, the agency is accepting comments until April 27, which can be submitted electronically via the federal e-rulemaking portal, or by mail or fax.
Faxed submissions, including attachments, must not exceed 10 pages and should be sent to the OSHA Docket Office at 202-693-1648. Comments submitted by mail should be addressed to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2011-0193, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20210.