On March 3, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered Jake Rieger Farms LLC to pay $55,000 in wages and damages for terminating a truck driver who refused to violate state law. An Iowan truck driver was operating a Jake Rieger semi-truck in January 2015 when he was ticketed by commercial motor vehicle enforcement for lacking proper registration and for operating an unsafe vehicle. The driver had his co-worker transport him to a repair shop in Iowa, and the company directed the driver to return to the company’s headquarters in Nebraska after law enforcement had left. The driver refused, as he still lacked proper registration, and the company terminated him immediately, leaving him stranded 170 miles from home.
OSHA held that this termination constituted a violation of the whistleblower retaliation provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, which protects individuals from retaliation for reporting workplace health and safety concerns. As Marcia Drumm, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City elaborated, “No worker should face termination for complying with federal laws which protect the safety of the motoring public. … OSHA is committed to protecting the rights of any worker to refuse unsafe and unlawful orders from their employer.” OSHA ordered the company to pay the truck driver $25,000 in punitive damages and $30,000 in compensatory damages, including back wages, repayment for tickets paid by the driver that were issued by the Iowa Department of Transportation, attorneys’ fees, transportation back to Nebraska and compensation for distress.
This case exemplifies OSHA’s ongoing commitment to protecting the rights of those in the transportation industry. 2015 proved to be a bountiful year for railroad workers and truck drivers alike –this and other recent actions by the Department of Labor show that 2016 may be more of the same.