Fired Safety Whistle-Blowers Awarded Nearly $1 Million

By Roy Maurer Aug 20, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined an asphalt company nearly $1 million for terminating workers who had raised safety concerns.

Asphalt Specialists Inc., based in Pontiac, Mich., was found in violation for wrongfully terminating a foreman and two truck drivers who refused to break federal hours-of-service rules requiring drivers to take a minimum 10-hour rest period between shifts.

OSHA does not release the names of workers involved in whistle-blower complaints.

The company was ordered to reinstate the three employees to their former positions with all pay and benefits, in addition to paying out a total of $953,916 in damages: $243,916 in back wages, $110,000 in compensatory damages and $600,000 in punitive damages.

According to OSHA, the company fired the foreman on June 30, 2012, after the foreman made repeated objections were made to the company’s co-owner about drivers exceeding hours-of-service limits. At least twice, the foreman and the crew were expected to work more than 27 hours straight, OSHA said.

A truck driver was terminated from employment on April 26, 2013. This employee also raised concerns about the number of work hours required by the company and refused to sign an affidavit denying that the worker was required to work in excess of the hours legally permitted, according to OSHA.

Asphalt Specialists sought the affidavit to use in their response to OSHA’s investigation of the fired foreman’s claims, the agency said.

Another driver was discharged on July 8, 2013, after voicing unease about vehicle maintenance and about the number of hours drivers were expected to work.

OSHA enforces the whistle-blower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, covering private-sector drivers and other employees of commercial motor carriers.

Companies covered by the law cannot retaliate against employees for refusing to operate a vehicle in violation of federal law or because the employee had reasonable concerns about a vehicle’s safety or security.

The high-profile accident that critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed fellow entertainer James McNair was attributed to a tired truck driver who dozed off behind the wheel. The June 2014 crash began a national dialogue about hours-of-service rules for truck drivers.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy


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