The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced last week a “major restructuring” of its Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program that reflects an increased priority for federal whistleblower protections.

The program will now report directly to the agency’s Office of the Assistant Secretary instead of to its Directorate of Enforcement Programs, according to OSHA’s press release.

So what’s the big deal, you say?  It’s just a bureaucratic reshuffling in an agency that only addresses workplace safety issues, right?

Well, not exactly.  While OSHA is charged with enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act and its whistleblower provisions, Congress has also empowered OSHA to enforce the whistleblower provisions of twenty other federal laws, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (part of the Dodd-Frank Act), and the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

So when OSHA makes a change that “represents a significantly elevated priority status for whistleblower enforcement,” as OSHA’s press release states, that is a big deal.

It remains to be seen what the increased priority for whistleblower protection means in practice.  But among the changes, according to news accounts, is that OSHA will be adding investigators and strengthening the training of its investigators.  For employers, that likely means more “cause” findings and more penalties.

We will keep you posted as we learn more.