Volume 2, Issue 5
March 15th, 2014
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These days when we think of federal laws designed to protect employees from retaliation by their employers, they usually involve financial and labor laws. But fleet operators need to remember that federal transportation law also protects truck drivers who report unsafe equipment.
The same law that prohibits employers from discharging or discriminating against truck drivers for reporting safety violations also protects an driver from termination for refusing to operate a vehicle that the employee believes violates a safety regulation.
Drivers are also protected when they claim to have a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to them or the public due to an unsafe condition with the vehicle. In order to obtain that legal protection, the driver must have requested that the employer fix the unsafe condition.
In January the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of a driver fired by a construction company after he refused to drive his assigned truck, complaining that asphalt covering the vehicle’s tail pan created a safety hazard.
The company then provided the driver with another truck, but he reported what he believed to be safety issues with the steering, refused to drive the second truck and complained regarding the safety issue in his daily driving report. He was later fired.
The court held that the driver’s fear of injury to himself or the public was objectively reasonable considered the circumstances, and thus his refusal to drive both trucks and his daily driving report were protected activities under the law.
The driver also presented evidence that his employer sent him warnings for refusing to the drive the trucks at the same time it fired him.
The decision is a fresh reminder that fleet managers should take extra precautions to be diligent when handling driver’s safety complaints.