A Houston mobile crane rental company was ordered to pay a former employee nearly $24,000 in back wages, interest, and damages after firing the worker in June 2020 for refusing to drive in excess of federal limits and reported fatigue, according to a November 18 announcement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The agency determined that Crane Masters Inc. violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act when it retaliated against the employee on June 5, 2020, for refusing to exceed safe driving limits set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The employee had worked 19 hours the day prior, according to OSHA, and could not get the required time off before returning to work, making it unsafe to operate a vehicle. The agency ordered the company to pay the driver nearly $14,000 in back wages, interest, and compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages.
“Commercial truck drivers, mechanics and other workers are critical to our nation’s transportation infrastructure and our economy, but they should never be forced to put themselves or others at risk because of an employer’s concern for profit, or fear retaliation for exercising their legal rights,” OSHA’s Dallas Regional Administrator Eric Harbin said in an agency statement.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 federal statutes through its Whistleblower Protection Program, protecting employees from retaliation for reporting violations of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, as well as federal airline, anti-money laundering, antitrust, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation, railroad, maritime, securities, and tax laws.
OSHA alleges whistleblower retaliation at truck manufacturer
OSHA separately announced that the Labor Department’s Office of the Solicitor filed suit November 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against PACCAR Inc., doing business as Peterbilt Motor Co., for violations of the antiretaliation provisions in the OSH Act.
The agency alleges that PACCAR fired an employee who expressed concerns about coronavirus safety at the company’s Denton, Texas, facility. In March 2020, the employee expressed concerns to a supervisor about exposure to the virus at the facility. A company representative told the employee the company planned to clean workspaces and to continue work as usual. After PACCAR later learned the employee publicly expressed concerns about the safety of other employees and about the company’s response, the company fired the employee.
The Labor Department is asking the court to order PACCAR to reinstate the employee to his former employment position with the company and pay back wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages, and other remedies, as well as expunge the employee’s personnel record.
“Our investigation found that PACCAR terminated a worker for reporting their concerns that the company’s response to the dangers of the coronavirus would not prevent its spread,” Harbin said. “Every worker has the right to report safety concerns of any kind without fear of retaliation.”
PACCAR Inc., headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to OSHA. The company also designs and manufactures trucks under the Kenworth, Peterbilt, Leyland Trucks, and DAF brands.