OSHA has ordered Auburn, Washington-based carrier Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc., to compensate a driver who refused to drive while taking a prescription narcotic.
In September 2010, a truck driver who was taking a prescription cough medicine and refused to drive was suspended without pay. Eventually the driver was fired.
After the driver was fired, he filed a whistleblower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which protects drivers from retaliation for refusing to violate truck safety laws that protect them and the public.
During an investigation of the incident, OSHA’s investigators found the driver had previously notified the company that he was sick and taking a prescribed narcotic cough suppressant.
“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 attendance policy of Oak Harbor Freight Lines 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,” OSHA said in a statement.
OSHA has ordered Oak Harbor Freight to pay the driver for lost wages. In addition, OSHA has ordered the carrier to remove the incident from the driver’s personnel file.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health-care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visithttp://www.osha.gov.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.