A driver raises safety questions about the truck his employer assigns him to drive. The company fires him when he refuses to drive the truck because it was leaking coolant. Does the driver get whistleblower protection?
William Beecher complained to his employer, United Auto Delivery and Recovery of Memphis, TN, that a truck had a coolant leak and other mechanical problems. A month-and-a-half later when the truck was still leaking coolant, Bleecher refused to drive it.
Bleecher told the company’s transportation manager that he wasn’t going to drive “this piece of **** truck” any longer and suggested he’d wait at home for a call when the truck was fixed. The manager said, “OK.”
When the manager reported this incident, the company’s CFO decided to fire Bleecher for walking off the job.
OSHA investigated Bleecher’s firing as a possible whistleblower violation by the employer.
Was firing prohibited by law?
The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) prohibits firing an employee because “the employee … has filed a complaint … related to a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety … regulation.”
OSHA found that operating a truck with a coolant leak is a violation of federal law which states, “A motor vehicle shall not be operated in such a condition as to likely cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle.”
The company said Bleecher was fired because he refused to drive another truck that was available to him.
However, the OSHA investigation found that having Bleecher drive the other truck would have been against the law because he didn’t have a commercial driver’s license required for the larger vehicle.
OSHA agreed to a hearing with the company to allow it to present evidence why Bleecher’s firing wasn’t a violation of whistleblower regulations.
No new information was provided at the meeting to change OSHA’s determination that United Auto violated the STAA by firing Bleecher.
OSHA ordered the company to:
- reinstate Bleecher to his former job with all the pay, benefits and other rights he had before he was fired
- pay Bleecher $38,447 in back pay plus interest, $20,000 for emotional distress, $40,000 in punitive damages and $10,634 in attorney fees (more than $111,000 with interest)
- remove any adverse references from Bleecher’s personnel records relating to his firing and in any request for employment references
- not retaliate against Bleecher in any manner, and
- post in its facility OSHA’s fact sheet on whistleblower protection for trucking employees.
Click here for a PDF of OSHA’s order. OSHA’s whistleblower fact sheet is included in the PDF.
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