BNSF Sick Policy Draws EEOC Discrimination Charges

The value of good union representation often goes far beyond securing good wages, benefits and working conditions. For members of TCU-IAM and Railroad District 19 employed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), it’s having the ability to challenge a management order requiring employees to report illnesses and accidents that occur outside the workplace or on an employees’ day off or vacation.

The highly intrusive directive requires BNSF employees to report medical events or conditions, even if there is no reasonable basis for believing the condition or event has any impact on the employee’s ability to perform his or her job, and even when the employee’s own doctor has placed no limitation on the employee’s job activities.

In response to the BNSF directive, the IAM and TCU-IAM promptly filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A number of other rail unions filed similar charges and the IAM and TCU-IAM are working with them on this issue.

The directive also requires employees to provide BNSF with highly personal medical information, including doctor’s notes, diagnostic test results and hospital discharge summaries, information that BNSF management has no right to demand or obtain.

“Each day that BNSF’s policy remains in effect, more employees face the likelihood of having their statutory rights violated,” said District 19 President and IAM Railroad Coordinator Joe Duncan and TCU National President Robert Scardelletti in the charges filed with the EEOC. “And once an employee’s rights are violated – that is, once BNSF has been notified of the away-from-work medical condition and has obtained the employee’s statutorily-protected medical information – there is no way to undo the violation.”