Company ordered to rehire, compensate trucker in weather-related refusal-to-drive firing

A box truck driver will receive almost $200,000 from a trucking company that fired him after he refused to drive in bad weather.

According to a late-June press release from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered Florence, Kentucky-based Freight Rite, Inc. to reinstate the driver. He was fired after refusing to operate a commercial motor vehicle in hazardous road conditions caused by winter weather.

OSHA also ordered the company to pay the driver $31,569 in back wages and interest, $100,000 in punitive damages, and $50,000 in compensatory damages and reasonable attorney fees. In addition, OSHA has ordered the company to refrain from retaliating against the driver.

“OSHA inspectors determined that the employee advised the company’s management of his reasonable apprehension of danger to himself and to the general public due to the hazardous road conditions,” the agency said in a press release. Michael D’Aquino of the DOL told FreightWaves that the driver’s concern stemmed from a winter storm near Lexington, Kentucky on January 16, 2018. The driver’s termination was a violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) according to OSHA. The driver was not identified because the DOL does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of STAA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

“Forcing drivers to operate a commercial motor vehicle during inclement weather places their lives and the lives of others at risk,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in the press release. “This order underscores the agency’s commitment to protect workers who exercise their right to ensure the safety of themselves and the general public.”

FreightWaves contacted Freight Rite for comment on separate occasions in the past week via email and telephone, but did not receive a response.

According to its website, Freight Rite is a last-mile logistics service provider to nationally known manufacturers and retailers. The company also offers services such as installation, assembly and haul away, and has several warehousing sites.

Freight Rite can appeal the order by requesting a full hearing before a DOL administrative law judge. The judge’s decision may then be appealed to the Department’s Administrative Review Board.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.

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