Sanctions for Discrimination Against Employees Who Raise Safety Concerns

The NRC vigorously pursues enforcement action against licensees or licensee contractors who discriminate against their employees for raising nuclear safety concerns. Acts of discrimination include discharge and other adverse actions that relate to an employee's compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

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The NRC places a high value on nuclear industry employees being free to raise potential safety concerns to both licensee management and the NRC, regardless of the merits of the concern. Unlawful adverse actions taken against employees for raising safety concerns may create a "chilling effect" on the employee or other workers who may wish to raise concerns. That is, the employees may not feel that they are free to raise concerns without fear of retaliation.

Therefore, one of the goals of the NRC's Enforcement Policy is to ensure, through appropriate enforcement action against a licensee or licensee contractor (and when warranted, against the individual personally responsible for the act of discrimination), that adverse employment actions taken against licensee or contractor employees for raising safety concerns do not have a chilling effect on the individual or others who may wish to report safety concerns.

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Discrimination Task Group

The Executive Director for Operations (EDO) chartered a Discrimination Task Group (DTG) on April 14, 2000, to (1) evaluate the Agency's handling of matters covered by its employee protection regulations; (2) propose recommendations for improving the Agency's process for handling such matters; (3) ensure that the application of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) enforcement process coincides with an environment where workers are free to raise concerns in accordance with the Agency's employee protection standards; and (4) coordinate with internal and external stakeholders in developing recommendations for changes to the process.

A Senior Management Review Team (SMRT) was established to review the final recommendations of the DTG and provide any additional perspectives that could enhance the potential options.

SECY-02-0166, "Policy Options and Recommendations for Revising the NRC’s Process for Handling Discrimination Issues" (issued October 4, 2002), includes four options for Commission consideration of changing the way the Agency handles discrimination cases, based on recommendations of the DTG and the SMRT. SECY-02-0166 includes the Discrimination Task Group Report as Attachment 1 and the Outcomes of the Senior Management Review Team as Attachment 2.

The Commission rendered its decision in a staff requirements memorandum (SRM) dated March 26, 2003. The Commission disapproved the staff recommendation to pursue rulemaking for oversight of a Safety Conscious Work Environment (SCWE). The Commission approved recommendations of the DTG, as revised by the SMRT, subject to comments included in the SRM. In addition, the Commission instructed the staff to work with stakeholders to develop guidance identifying best practices to encourage a SCWE.

For additional details see:

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Applicable Regulations and Related Petitions

Employee protection:

Deliberate misconduct: reactors (10 CFR 50.5)

Recognition of Agreement State Licenses (10 CFR 150.20)

Related Petitions:

Submittal of Petition for Rulemaking, "Employee Protection Training," submitted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) on August 13, 1999. This petition for rulemaking requested that NRC's licensees be required to provide training of first line and above supervisors of their responsibilities in implementing the employee protection regulations.

Federal Register notice announcing the receipt of UCS's petition for rulemaking on employee protection training published on October 27, 1999. The announcement for the NRC Discrimination Task Group stated that the Group would consider the issues raised in this rulemaking petition.

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Commission Policy Statements

The Commission's Enforcement Policy addresses the issue of discrimination in several areas. See Excerpts from NRC Enforcement Policy.

In May 1996, the Commission issued a policy statement on the "Freedom of Employees in the Nuclear Industry to Raise Safety Concerns Without Fear of Retaliation'' (FR 24336). This policy statement had first been published in draft in February 1995 (FR 7592) and was based on modified recommendations of the Allegation Review Team report published as NUREG-1499. The basic thrust of the policy statement was to clarify the Commission's expectation that licensees and other employers subject to NRC authority will establish and maintain a safety conscious work environment in which employees feel free to raise concerns both to their management and the NRC without fear of retaliation.

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Applicable NRC Guidance

Guidance related to the discrimination against employees who raise safety concerns is located within Section 1.3 of the NRC Enforcement Manual.

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What To Do If You Think You've Been Discriminated Against

Allegations of discrimination can be made directly to the NRC or to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or both. The DOL provides nuclear workers with personal remedies when a finding of discrimination is made. The NRC's authority is limited to taking enforcement action against the employer for discriminating against an employee. Learn more about the NRC's Allegation Program and process (including how to file an allegation of discrimination) at our Allegations page.

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Memorandum of Understanding with Department of Labor

The NRC has a Memorandum of Understanding with DOL that describes the responsibilities of the NRC and DOL in protecting the rights of employees as specified in Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA) of 1974, as amended.

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DOL's Office of Administrative Law Judges Law Library

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) from DOL's Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) presides over formal hearings concerning many labor-related matters, including discrimination complaints for raising safety concerns in the nuclear industry. ALJ decisions can be found by accessing the OALJ Law Library Whislerblower Collection.

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Statistical Information

Statistical information on enforcement actions that the NRC has issued based on discrimination, including case summaries, can be found in the Office of Enforcement's Annual Reports.

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