OSHA orders trucking company to stop retaliating against sick drivers

| 1/6/2014

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered a Washington-based trucking company to compensate a truck driver who was suspended, then fired, for refusing to drive while ill.

OSHA has ordered Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. of Auburn, Wash., to stop “retaliating against workers who refuse to drive trucks while too ill or fatigued to safely operate vehicles at its facilities.”

According to the DOL release, OSHA determined that Oak Harbor suspended a driver without pay indefinitely. Then the company fired the driver in September 2010 after he notified the company that he was ill and “taking a prescribed narcotic cough suppressant.”

The former driver then filed a whistleblower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act or STAA.

“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, Wash., in the news release. “A company cannot place its attendance policies ahead of the safety of its drivers and that of the public.”

The trucking company, which has around 530 power units and approximately 700 drivers according to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s website, has been ordered to pay the driver for lost wages and remove any “occurrences” from his personnel file. OSHA stated in the release that Oak Harbor used a system where it punished drivers with disciplinary action or fired them by issuing them notices of occurrences for failing to drive “regardless of possible safety concerns.”

OSHA has ordered Oak Harbor to post a notice educating its drivers about their legal rights under STAA, which protects drivers “from retaliation for refusing to violate truck safety laws that protect them and the public.”