November 22, 2011
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Knoxville-based Heartland Transportation Inc. to reinstate a former employee and pay the individual $62,090 in compensatory and punitive damages plus more than two years of back wages, interest, benefits and reasonable attorney’s fees. The order follows OSHA’s determination that the company violated the employee’s rights under the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act by terminating the employee for complaining about defective vehicles.
“Putting defective trucks on American roads endangers the company’s drivers and all other motor vehicle operators who share the road with a truck that is improperly maintained. Drivers have a right to complain without fear of retaliation when they are asked to operate an unsafe vehicle,” said Teresa A. Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Atlanta.
Heartland Transportation is a contract mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. In August 2009, the employee was assigned to deliver a truckload of U.S. mail to a customer in Pontiac, Mich., when he found that his assigned trailer had a nonworking light. After complaining, the light was repaired and the delivery made. The employee had complained about such mechanical failures on a number of previous occasions, but the problems recurred. Accordingly, he informed his employer that he would not drive trucks with such failures in the future. After returning to the company’s facility from Michigan, the driver found that his name had been removed from the driving schedule. He inquired about this development, and, during a meeting to discuss the issue, was informed that his employment was terminated. The employee then submitted a whistleblower complaint to OSHA.
The order issued by OSHA also requires the trucking company to expunge any adverse references from the complainant’s personnel records relating to the discharge, and to post a notice to employees and provide them a fact sheet with notification of their rights under the STAA.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. More information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.