Fleet ordered to compensate driver fired for refusing to drive

Oak Harbor Freight Lines has been ordered by the Department of Labor to compensate a truck driver lost wages after it fired the driver for refusing to drive after he took a prescription cough medicine while sick.

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration began investigating the company after the driver — whose name was not released by OSHA — filed a whistleblower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act after he was suspended indefinitely without pay in September 2010.

Related: Carrier ordered to pay drivers back wages after firing them for refusal to drive

OSHA said its investigation found the driver notified Oak Harbor that he was sick and was taking a narcotic cough suppressant that had been prescribed.

The Surface Transportation Assistance Act protects drivers from retaliation by employers for refusing to drive when doing so would violate safety laws.

OSHA, in addition to ordering the carrier to compensate the driver, ordered Oak Harbor to stop issuing “occurrences” to drivers, which OSHA says punishes drivers for not driving, regardless of safety concerns, as the attendance policy can lead to disciplinary action.

Oak Harbor will also be required to post a notice for drivers to read to learn more about their rights under STAA.

“Punishing workers for exercising their right to refuse driving assignments is against the law,” said David Mahlum, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Seattle. “A company cannot place its attendance policies ahead of the safety of its drivers and that of the public.”