It is not uncommon for commercial truck drivers to be required to work rigorous schedules or to drive in undesirable weather conditions. However, when a truck driver's safety is being threatened, drivers have the right to refuse. What happens if your employer takes offense at your refusal, and you find yourself terminated? You have the right to complain about safety issues at work, and to refuse to work in unreasonably unsafe conditions. If you are terminated for doing so, you may have a claim against your employer.
Truck driver fired for refusing to drive in extreme winter weather
In Fink v. R&L Transfer, Inc., the plaintiff had an unblemished 13-year record operating large commercial trucks. In January 2011, Fink was requested to drive a double trailer 175 miles in severe weather conditions. However, Fink was concerned that the icy road conditions and high winds would make his driving extremely dangerous. He refused to complete the scheduled run and was terminated. To make things worse, his termination was characterized as a resignation which prevented Fink from challenging his termination internally, and from obtaining unemployment compensation. Ultimately, Fink was awarded $100,000.00 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages.
Whistleblower protections in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act
The whistleblower protection provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act ("STAA"), shelters truck drivers who refuse to drive due to a reasonable apprehension of serious injury as a result of an unsafe condition. This provision applied in the Fink case, and made his termination a violation of the STAA.
One of the factors the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") considered in holding the company liable included the fact that the manager made no attempt to determine whether Fink's apprehension about driving in those conditions was reasonable. Also, the fact that Fink's termination was characterized as a resignation, which had a negative impact on Fink, showed a degree of conscious disregard that warranted punitive damages, according to the ALJ.
What is a whistleblower action?
A whistleblower is someone who exposes alleged dishonest or illegal misconduct taking place in an organization. The misconduct can be a violation of a law or regulation, or a threat to public interest. Common types of misconduct include health and safety violations or corruption. Whistleblowers can make their allegations either internally, to people within the company, or externally, to law enforcement, the media or the like. Whistleblowers of all types are afforded protection for their actions.
If you feel you have been the victim of retaliation for whistleblowing, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.