A U.S. agency is making it harder for trucking companies to coerce their employees into breaking the law or to fire them for raising safety concerns.
Within the last moth, the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) has filed two separate cases ordering trucking companies to pay more than $1 million in damages to truck drivers who were fired in volition of the whistleblower protection provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).
The STAA dictates that companies may not discharge their employees or retaliate against them for refusing to operate a vehicle out of safety concerns.
Last week, OSHA ordered a Michigan asphalt company to pay almost $1 million to a foreman and two drivers who claimed they were fired in violation of the STAA after voicing concerns about working 27 hours straight and being denied the mandated 10-hour rest period.
The company was ordered to pay a total of $953, 916 in damages and to reinstate the three employees to their former positions with all pay, benefits and rights.
“It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees who report work-related safety concerns or violations of federal transportation regulations, which require drivers to have a minimum 10-hour rest period between shifts,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “OSHA is committed to protecting workers from retaliation for exercising basic worker rights.”
In a second case, OSHA found that four former Gaines Motor Lines truck drivers were fired for their participation in a March inspection audit done by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who cited the drivers with logbook violations.
The settlement requires Gaines to pay the four drivers a total of $262,500, which includes all back pay and interest, as well as compensatory damages.
OSHA, a part of the Department of Labor, enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 21 other statutes that protect employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, pipeline, public transportation, railroad and maritime laws and regulations.
Due to increased employee awareness and the ease of filing claims via anonymous hotlines, transportation-related whistleblower claims have nearly doubled in the last 6 years, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In July, OSHA and the FMCSA strengthened collaborative efforts to crack down on companies violating whistleblower laws and signed a memorandum of understanding allowing for, in part, the exchange of information regarding safety, coercion and retaliation allegations between the two agencies.
“Commercial vehicle drivers who report injuries, hazards and illegal work practices should not fear retaliation for speaking out about unsafe work conditions,” Michaels said. “Through this agreement, we are sending a clear message that silencing workers who try to do the right thing is unacceptable for workers and also unsafe for the public.”
Now, with a new proposed law calling for an $11,000 fine each time a company tries to persuade drivers to violate safety rules, the commercial truck industry is facing a severe crackdown on safety and whistleblower law violations.
Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights can be found online at www.whistleblowers.gov.
For a fact sheet with information on how to file a complaint with OSHA, click here.