The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered Pontiac, Mich.-based Asphalt Specialists Inc. to pay $1 million in back wages and damages and reinstate a foreman and two truck drivers who were fired after voicing safety concerns.
According to OSHA, Asphalt Specialists fired the foreman on June 30, 2012, after he repeatedly raised concerns to the company’s co-owner about being forced to exceed hours-of-service (HOS) rules, which regulate commercial drivers’ periods of work and rest and are intended to mitigate driver fatigue.
Company managers “repeatedly failed to allow for the 10-hour rest period mandated by the Department of Transportation,” OSHA said. The foreman and his crew were expected to work more than 27 hours straight on at least two occasions.
Knowing that it is dangerous and illegal to operate a truck for extended periods without rest, the foreman rightfully refused to order the drivers in his charge to work under dangerous circumstances, putting themselves and others on the road at risk. Asphalt Specialists fired the foreman on June 30, 2012, after he complained about the illegal work orders.
The second truck driver was fired the following April after he, too, raised concerns about the number of consecutive hours the company required him to drive. The driver also refused to sign an affidavit the company sought in connection with the fired foreman’s claims denying that he was required to work beyond the number of hours legally permitted.
Asphalt Specialists fired the third driver on July 8, 2013, after he voiced concerns about vehicle maintenance and the number of hours he and others were expected to drive.
“It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees who report work-related safety concerns or violations of federal transportation regulations, which require drivers to have a minimum 10-hour rest period between shifts,” OSHA Assistant Labor Secretary, Dr. David Michaels, said in a statement about the case. “OSHA is committed to protecting workers from retaliation for exercising basic worker rights.”
The Surface Transportation Assistance Act’s whistleblower provisions forbid companies from retaliating against their employees for refusing to operate a vehicle if doing so would either violate a federal commercial motor vehicle rule related to safety, health or security, or because the employee had a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to themselves or the public because of a vehicle’s safety or security condition.
OSHA ordered Asphalt Specialists to reinstate all three drivers and pay them $243,916 in back wages, $110,000 in compensatory damages, and $600,000 in punitive damages.