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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered a New Jersey-based trucking company to reinstate and pay more than $276,000 in back wages and damages to an illegally fired truck driver.
The unnamed truck driver for Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based NFI Interactive Logistics Inc. was making a delivery of Poland Spring bottled water from Northborough, Massachusetts, to Jersey City, New Jersey, in August 2012 when he encountered weather issues that significantly lengthened the trip, OSHA said Wednesday in a statement. The driver said he believed he lacked sufficient time to complete the delivery and return home without violating the hours of service restrictions contained in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, and delivered the load to a closer customer facility in nearby Kearny, New Jersey, which NFI objected to even though arrangements were made for another driver to deliver the load to its final destination.
The driver filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA after the company fired him for insubordination, and the agency ruled in his favor, ordering the company to reinstate him immediately, pay $126,870 in back pay and interest covering the period from Aug. 17, 2012, to June 7, 2016, $50,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, and $100,000 in punitive damages and reasonable attorney fees.
OSHA also ordered the company not to retaliate against the driver and to inform employees of their rights under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. The agency is charged with enforcing the anti-retaliation provisions of the act and 21 other federal statutes.
“This driver found a way to do his job and ensure motor carrier safety,” said Kim Stille, OSHA's Boston-based New England regional administrator in a news release. “Rather than receiving credit for doing the right thing, he received a pink slip. The law is clear: drivers have the right to raise legitimate safety concerns to their employer — including refusing to violate safety regulations — without fear of termination or other retaliation. NFI must reverse its actions and compensate this driver for the financial and other losses he has suffered as a result of his illegal termination.”
A company spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been busy revamping rules protecting whistleblowers under the various laws the agency is charged with enforcing to ensure consistency and give employees time to file complaints.