More OSHA Enforcement Action Against Motor Carriers

Following on the heels of two enforcement cases last summer against truckload carrier J.B. Hunt and LTL carrier Old Dominion (see August 2013 issue of California Transportation News), the Occupational Health and Health Administration (OSHA) Office of Public Affairs issued two more enforcement announcements against motor carriers in early January.

OSHA ordered Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc., on January 2nd, to compensate a worker who refused to drive in violation of safety regulations. OSHA has also ordered the trucking company, based in Auburn, Wash., to stop retaliating against workers who refuse to drive trucks while too ill or fatigued to safely operate vehicles at its facilities.
A commercial truck driver working for the company in Portland was suspended without pay indefinitely before being fired in September 2010 in retaliation for refusing to drive in violation of the Ill or Fatigued Operator Rule enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. OSHA’s investigation found the driver had notified the company that he was sick and taking a prescribed narcotic cough suppressant. Upon his termination, the worker filed a whistleblower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which protects drivers from retaliation for refusing to violate truck safety laws that protect them and 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 is requiring the employer to compensate the employee for lost wages and has ordered the company to remove any occurrences from the driver’s personnel file. The employer will also be required to post a notice for drivers to read and learn about their rights under the STAA.

No Blacklisting For Medical Issues

On January 6th OSHA issued results of an investigation that found that New Prime Inc. retaliated against a truck driver by blacklisting him in the commercial transport industry after he sought medical attention for a work-related injury. OSHA has ordered the Springfield, Mo.-based motor carrier to pay the former employee $100,994.24 in back wages and damages and take other corrective action.

The driver notified his supervisors in October 2008 that he sustained an on-the-job back injury and was seeking medical attention. In November, he provided documentation that the condition was serious enough to prevent him from returning to work because he had been prescribed medications that made operating a commercial motor vehicle unsafe. In July 2009, the driver’s physician released him for full duty. He opted not to return to New Prime Inc. and began seeking employment elsewhere in the industry.
After being rejected for a job, the driver learned New Prime Inc. had submitted damaging and misleading information about his employment to a provider of pre-employment and drug testing screening services. The information appeared on the driver’s Drive-A-Check Report, an employment history submitted by former employers in the trucking industry. The driver submitted a complaint with OSHA, alleging violation of the anti-retaliatory provisions of the STAA.

As a result, OSHA is ordering New Prime Inc. to pay the former employee lost wages, including interest, of $41,373.34, covering the time between July 1, 2009 and April 1, 2010; $40,000 in compensatory damages for pain, suffering, emotional distress and loss of home and property; and $20,000 in punitive damages in light of the company’s reckless and callous disregard for the worker’s rights under the STAA. The company must also expunge the complainant’s employment and DAC Report records of any reference to his unlawful termination.