In a major decision that will help railroad employees, the United States Department of Labor Administrative Review Board (ARB) has confirmed that the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), subsection (c)(2) regarding “Prompt medical attention” protects an injured rail worker for non-work related medical condition treatment when that treatment is as a result of a physician’s treatment plan.
A final decision and order was presented by the ARB last month in the case of Williams v. Grand Trunk Western Railroad. The ARB rejected an earlier decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals which limited Whistleblower protections to work-related injuries.
In Williams, a locomotive engineer suffered from anxiety, migraine headaches and depression. He missed time from work as a result of his doctor’s treatment plan. The time was taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The railroad engineer was subsequently fired by the railroad for work absences which lead to this lawsuit. The question then was whether or not treatment by a physician for a non-work related medical condition would be covered under the Federal Rail Safety Act.
The FRSA provides that railroad carriers “may not discharge … or in any other way discriminate against an employee if such discrimination is due … to the employee’s lawful, good faith act” involving the various protective activities such as notifying the railroad of a work-related illness. Subsection (c)(2) of the FRSA states that, “A railroad carrier … may not discipline, or threaten discipline to and employee for … following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician.”
The question in Williams, then, was whether or not treatment by a physician for a non-work related medical condition would be covered under the Federal Rail Safety Act. The ARB determined that Williams was in fact following the treatment plan of his physician for a non-related work injury, and (c)(2) protects employees who follow their treating doctor’s orders for a non-work related medical condition. The Third Circuit’s contrary decision remains law within the Third Circuit.
What it comes down to is this: railroad workers should not be disciplined for following the orders of their treating physicians no matter how or where the medical condition arose.