A highway law older than most fleet managers continues to protect professional truck drivers from retaliation for refusing to take what they believe to be unsafe actions.
NFI Interactive Logistics learned this lesson the hard way when it was forced by OSHA to reinstate the driver, pay him more than $276,000 in back wages and damages, and take other corrective action after firing him.
OSHA ruled that the five-year-old adverse action NFI took against the driver was in violation of a safety provision in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which was enacted in 1982 primarily to extend the national highway program.
In 2012, NFI sent a driver to deliver a load of water from Massachusetts, to Jersey City, NJ, Weather and traffic meant the trip took longer than normal, and the driver believed he couldn’t make it to Jersey City without violating hours of service regulations.
He proposed delivering the water to a closer facility where another driver could deliver it. Although his employer initially balked, both it and the customer eventually went along and the load arrived on time.
Although the driver’s plan allowed on-time delivery while complying with the law, NFI terminated him the following day for insubordination.
OSHA concluded that NFI violated the STAA provision written to protect employees who refuse to drive if they reasonably believe that doing so will violate safety laws and regulations.
“This case is an important reminder of the critical need for commercial truck drivers to uphold federal regulations governing their industry and of the broad legal protections for employees who face retaliation when they take steps to make sure their employers comply with these laws,” warns attorney Colleen E. Coveney of the law firm of Katz Marshall & Banks.