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OSHA Protecting Local Truck Drivers

A truck driver is receiving thousands in compensation after his employer recently fired him after he refused to violate federal safety regulations in order to make his delivery on time.  The driver was making a delivery from Massachusetts to New Jersey when he became concerned he would not complete the delivery on schedule without breaking safety regulations and putting his safety and the safety of others at risk.  The driver thought he planned a route that would allow him to run on time without breaking regulations, but his employer fired him as a result.  His employer, NFI Interactive Logistics Inc., violated the anti-retaliation clauses of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, as found by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  As a punishment, OSHA is demanding the company reinstate the driver, as well as pay him over $276,000 in back wages and damages.

The driver was assigned by NFI to deliver a truckload of Poland Spring bottled water from Northborough, Massachusetts to Jersey City, New Jersey on August 15, 2012.  The trip was prolonged to due severe weather, including thunderstorms, flooding, heavy traffic, and multiple accidents.  With the delay, the driver did not believe that he would be able to make the delivery and still get home without violating the hours of service restrictions included in the U.S. Department of Transportations Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations.  Specific hours of service rules depend on if the driver is carrying property or passengers, but all rules limit the amount of hours a truck driver can drive consecutively.  When the driver realized that he would be driving longer than he was technically permitted, he arranged to deliver the water to a closer customer facility near Kearny, New Jersey.  NFI opposed that the driver making the delivery Kearny.  It was later arranged that another driver would pick the load up from Kearny and drive it to its final destination in Jersey City.

Both NFI and the customer approved this change.  The driver made the delivery to Kearny and successfully returned to Northborough, MA without violating the hours of service restrictions.  However, the following day, NFI terminated him for “insubordination”.  Afterward, the driver filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA to which the agency found the driver had a valid complaint.  In a statement made by Kim Stille, OSHA’s New England regional administrator, “The driver found a way to do his job and ensure motor carrier safety. Rather than receiving credit for doing the right thing, he received a link slip. The law is clear: Drivers have the right to raise legitimate safety concerns to their employee—including refusing to violate safety regulations—without fear of termination or other retaliation.”  OSHA is ordering NFI Interactive Logistics respond to a laundry list of remedial actions including:

  • Immediately return the driver to his former position with the same rights and benefits before the incident
  • Pay the driver $126,870 in back pay and interest
  • Pay him $50,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering
  • Pay him $100,000 in punitive damages, as well as attorney fees
  • Remove reference of the discharge from the drivers file
  • Make no negative statements about the driver’s termination
  • Not retaliate against the driver
  • Post a signed and dated notice notifying employees of the OSHA order

Both the driver and NFI have 30 days to file objections and request a hearing before the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

The ruling by OSHA is in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which states employers have the responsibility of providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.  Under various provisions by OSHA, whistleblowers are protected from retaliation from their employers.

 

“OSHA Regional News Release.” OSHA. United States Department of Labor, 8 June 2016. Web. 23 June 2016.