OSHA Orders Compensation for Driver Who Refused to Work While Ill

By Roy Maurer Jan 10, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered a trucking company to compensate an employee for lost wages after it fired him for refusing to drive while ill.

Oak Harbor Freight Lines, based in Auburn, Wash., must stop retaliating against workers who refuse to drive trucks while too ill or fatigued.

In violation of the Ill or Fatigued Operator Rule, enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a commercial truck driver working for the company in Portland, Ore., was suspended without pay indefinitely before being fired in September 2010 in retaliation for refusing to drive.

OSHA’s investigation found that the driver had notified the company that he was sick and taking a prescribed narcotic cough suppressant. After being terminated, the worker filed a whistle-blower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which protects drivers from retaliation for refusing to violate truck-safety laws.

“Punishing workers for exercising their right to refuse driving assignments is against the law,” said David L. Mahlum, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Seattle. “A company cannot place its attendance policies ahead of the safety of its drivers and that of the public.”

OSHA determined that the company’s attendance policy punishes drivers by issuing them notices of “occurrences,” which can result in disciplinary action or termination for failing to drive, regardless of possible safety concerns.

The agency has ordered the company to remove any occurrences from the driver’s personnel file. The employer also must post a notice for drivers to read and learn about their lawful rights under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

OSHA enforces the whistle-blower provisions of the act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation, maritime and securities laws.

Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Information on employee whistle-blower rights, including fact sheets, is available at www.whistleblowers.gov.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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