A California trucking company has been ordered to pay and reinstate a former truck driver it allegedly fired for raising safety concerns about hauling overweight loads.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said Wednesday it has ordered JHOS Logistics and Transportation Inc. (JHOS) of Wilmington, California, to rehire and pay the driver, considered a whistleblower, more than $190,000 in back wages, $25,000 in punitive damages and $5,000 in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
OSHA investigators determined that JHOS violated the whistleblower provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) when it fired the truck driver.
Approximately two months prior to the driver’s firing, OSHA said he was cited for operating an overweight commercial motor vehicle owned by JHOS. OSHA investigators stated the size of the overweight load the driver was ticketed for previously was similar to the size of the current load he was asked to haul, which caused him to reasonably believe the vehicle was overweight.
“An employer cannot take an adverse action against employees, such as firing or laying off, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, or reducing pay or hours, for engaging in activities protected by OSHA’s whistleblower laws,” a DOL spokesperson told FreightWaves.
In addition to reinstating and compensating the driver, JHOS must also train managers and post a notice informing employees about workers’ rights under the STAA.
JHOS Logistics has 30 days to appeal the order to the Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.
“This order underscores the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to protect employees who report violations under Surface Transportation Assistance Act,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Barbara Goto. “OSHA enforces the legal provisions of the act, which protects employees who exercise their right to report health and safety concerns with commercial motor vehicles.”
JHOS, which has four power units and four drivers, hauls intermodal containers to and from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, as well as general freight.
JHOS’ owner Jahiro Otzoy declined FreightWaves’ request for comment regarding the OSHA order.
JHOS’ trucks had been inspected 23 times and seven trucks were placed out of service in a 24-month period, resulting in a 30.4% out-of-service rate. This is higher than the industry’s national average of around 21%, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) SAFER system.
Its drivers were inspected 18 times and zero were placed out of service. The national average out-of-service rate is around 5.5%. One of JHOS’ trucks was involved in a fatal crash in the past 24 months, according to FMCSA data.
OSHA does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.