Trucking co. ordered to pay for coercing driver to violate safety rules

The driver said that the company told him to violate HOS regulations and ignored complaints about defective equipment.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered a now-defunct Connecticut trucking company to pay a truck driver who complained and then quit after allegedly facing retaliation for refusing to violate safety regulations.

The Department of Labor ordered Hartford, Connecticut-based Universal Trucking Solutions LLC and co-owner Juan Ramirez to pay more than $150,000 to an unnamed truck driver after investigators determined that the company had retaliated against the driver for raising safety concerns.

According to a OSHA news release from February 26, 2020:

OSHA investigators found that the company and Ramirez retaliated against a driver who repeatedly voiced concerns to management about faulty vehicle maintenance – including missing or inoperative headlights and air pressure leaks – and the company’s direction to violate Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hours of service regulations while driving. Management and Ramirez later changed the driver’s work schedule, resulting in a reduction to the driver’s pay.

The driver resigned in February 2017 after concerns that U.S. Department of Transportation officials would confiscate their Commercial Driver’s License; that their livelihood and/or life could be lost because of defective trucks; and because their employer forced them to ignore hours-of-service rules.

OSHA investigators determined that Universal Trucking Solutions actions were in violation of whistleblower protections in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). The STAA protects workers in certain industries from retaliation from their employers when they report safety violations.

United Trucking Solutions was ordered to pay the driver $8,315.81 in back pay and interest, $75,000 in punitive damages, and $50,000 in compensatory damages for mental pain and emotional distress in addition to $21,378.05 in attorneys’ fees.

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“Truck drivers are protected from retaliation when they refuse to violate laws put in place to protect their safety and health,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in Boston, Massachusetts. “This order reinforces the agency’s commitment to protect workers who exercise their right to a safe workplace, and refuse to place themselves and the public at risk.”