Whistleblower Violation Costs Arizona Trucking Co $315,000
Phoenix, AZ (WorkersCompensation.com) - The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered M3 Transport LLC/SLT Expressway Inc. and its successors-in-interest, Lyons Capital LLC and the Roadmaster Group in Glendale, to reinstate a former employee and pay $280,000 in back wages and interest, $15,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages.
The order follows OSHA's determination that the company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act when it terminated the truck driver in February 2010 in retaliation for complaining to management about safety issues and refusing to drive a truck containing explosives with a co-driver who smoked in the vehicle – a violation of U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.
"Firing or otherwise retaliating against workers who raise safety concerns is unacceptable and against the law," said Ken Nishiyama Atha, OSHA's regional administrator in San Francisco. "OSHA will not tolerate this type of behavior, and the Labor Department will actively pursue appropriate legal remedies in such cases."
OSHA opened a whistleblower investigation upon receiving a complaint from the terminated employee. The complaint alleged that on Feb. 8, 2010, the employee was informed that a new co-driver had been assigned to haul a vehicle full of explosives to Canada. Upon finding an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts in the new co-driver's truck, the employee notified supervisors that driving with this individual would be unacceptable because smoking while hauling explosives violates federal regulations. The employee was then told by management to go home and wait to be reassigned a new co-driver. Two days later, the employee was terminated.
In addition to reinstatement and compensation for the employee, the order issued by OSHA requires the trucking company to expunge any adverse references relating to the discharge from the complainant's personnel records, and post a notice for all employees notifying them of their rights under the STAA.
M3 Transport LLC/SLT Expressway Inc., now operating as the Roadmaster Group, specializes in transporting explosives for military and defense contractors, as well as heavy hauling. Within 30 days of receipt of OSHA's order, the company or complainant may file objections or request a hearing before the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, 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 that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor. Fact sheets and detailed information on employee whistleblower rights are available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov/index.html.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321- OSHA (6742) or the agency's Phoenix office at 602-514-7250.
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.
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