Trucker who refused to drive awarded back wages, fleet ordered to stop retaliation

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Updated Jan 7, 2014

An Auburn, Wash.-based fleet has been ordered by the Labor Department to pay one of its former truck drivers back wages and to stop an attendance policy that the department says retaliates against drivers who refuse to drive due to safety reasons. 

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration after an investigation into Oak Harbor Freight Lines ordered the fleet to pay an unnamed driver lost wages after the driver filed a whistleblower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. 

OSHA said the driver had notified his carrier that he was sick and was taking a prescribed cough medicine — and therefore could not drive. The driver was then suspended without pay in September 2010.

The Surface Transportation Assistance Act protects drivers from retaliation by employers for refusing to drive when doing so would violate safety laws.

OSHA, in addition to ordering the carrier to compensate the driver, ordered Oak Harbor to stop issuing “occurrences” to drivers, which OSHA says punishes drivers for not driving, regardless of safety concerns, as the attendance policy can lead to disciplinary action.

Oak Harbor will also be required to post a notice for drivers to read to learn more about their rights under STAA.

“Punishing workers for exercising their right to refuse driving assignments is against the law,” said David Mahlum, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Seattle. “A company cannot place its attendance policies ahead of the safety of its drivers and that of the public.”