An Oregon truck driver who filed a whistleblower complaint against her employer alleging she was fired for refusing to drive an unsafe truck will receive back wages and compensation for legal fees in addition to being reinstated to her job, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced.
After completing an investigation of the complaint, OSHA ordered Terry Unrein, an independent trucking contractor based in Gresham, Ore., to reinstate the driver, who was fired in late 2011 after she refused to drive a five-ton truck with inadequate tire tread on public highways.
According to OSHA, Terry Unrein fired the driver eight days after she had the truck’s tire replaced before driving on the highway. Driving a commercial truck with unsafe tires is a willful violation of federal transportation safety regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
It is also a violation of federal law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who reports wrongdoing internally or to an appropriate regulatory agency or authority. By firing the driver for refusing to drive a truck with poor treads, Terry Unrein violated the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which also prohibit retaliation against employees who refuse to violate rules and regulations or engage in behavior that could put themselves or others at risk.
“We will enforce whistleblower provisions to the fullest extent of the law to protect employees, who should not be retaliated against for following the law,” said regional OSHA administrator Ken Atha.
In a time when regulatory agencies are having to do more with less funding, whistleblowers and the laws that protect them are playing an ever-expanding role in holding corporations accountable for fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, and other wrongdoing.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 20 different statutes protecting employees who report violations of commercial motor carrier, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, public transportation agency, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, railroad, maritime, health care reform, food safety, securities, and financial reform laws.