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Employer Responsibility Under FELA

When Congress enacted the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) for the protection of railroad workers nationwide, it not only created a system where injured workers could receive legal compensation for their injuries, it also provided railroad companies and employers with something of a uniform liability standard when it comes to working conditions and employee safety on the job. Basically, FELA requires that railroads provide their workers with a reasonably safe work environment at all times and in all situations. Following is a brief review of a railroad/employer's specific duties under FELA.

Unsafe Conditions and Hazards

In providing its employees with a reasonably safe workplace, under FELA a railroad company has a duty to:

  • Ensure that the workplace is reasonably free of unsafe conditions and safety hazards. This duty extends to the provision and maintenance of equipment and tools, including adequate safety devices;
  • Warn employees of any unsafe conditions and hazards, even in situations where the employee himself or herself should be aware of the danger;
  • Inspect the workplace to make sure it is free of known and unknown hazards. This means that if a hazard or equipment defect caused an injury to an employee, and that condition could have been discovered by the employer through a reasonable inspection, the employer will be liable under FELA.

Training, Supervision, and Safety Regulations

Under FELA, railroad companies and employers must make sure that their employees are reasonably equipped and able to perform their assigned task. (See FindLaw's OSHA and Railroad Workplace Safety section for related information.)This duty includes seeing to it that:

  • All necessary training is provided to every worker in terms of their relevant job responsibilities. Every employee must have the appropriate experience and training necessary to safely perform the work they are assigned;
  • All job activities and work conditions are adequately supervised, so that any injuries to subordinate employees are avoided. The duty to inspect for hazards (discussed above) often comes into play when a railroad employee is injured based on the railroad's failure to provide adequate supervision;
  • Any company job safety rules in place are followed. This means that, aside from a duty of compliance with federal safety standards, a railroad must comply with and enforce its own workplace rules and regulations. If the railroad fails to do so, it may be found liable under FELA.

Other Duties

A railroad company/employer's duties under FELA also include:

  • A duty to take reasonable measures to keep employees safe from intentional acts by other employees or third parties, such as crimes and intentional torts;
  • The duty to prevent the implementation or use of unreasonable work quotas in terms of time or production;
  • A duty to provide employees with adequate help or assistance in situations where a certain task exceeds a worker's physical limitations or abilities.

Get an Evaluation of Your Legal Claim

Remember that this list of an employer's duties to railroad workers under FELA is not exclusive, so while the facts of your case may not match what is discussed here, your legal right to compensation under FELA may still be clear-cut. Talk with an experienced FELA attorney to make sure that your rights to that compensation are fully protected. Further, consider having an attorney with FELA claim experience do an evaluation of your case.

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