March 3, 2016
OSHA finds Jake Rieger Farms wrongfully terminated driver who refused to
operate truck that violated Iowa law; owes $55K in wages, damages
Company fired employee on spot, left him to find transportation from Iowa to Nebraska
FALLS CITY, Neb. - A truck driver fired for refusing to drive a company vehicle pulled from service by the Iowa Department of Transportation is owed $55,000 in back wages, damages and compensation from his employer, the finding of a U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation.
"No worker should face termination for complying with federal laws which protect the safety of the motoring public," said Marcia Drumm, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City. "In this case, Jake Rieger Farms retaliated against an employee who refused to drive a truck that Iowa law enforcement deemed unsafe. His employer fired him on the spot and left him to find his way home to Nebraska. OSHA is committed to protecting the rights of any worker to refuse unsafe and unlawful orders from their employer."
On Jan. 16, 2015, Iowa commercial motor vehicle enforcement stopped and ticketed the driver of a Jake Rieger tractor-trailer truck for operating an unsafe tractor-trailer truck and for lacking proper state registration. The driver was directed to a repair shop, contacted his employer and returned to Nebraska. OSHA's investigation found on Jan. 22, 2015, a co-worker drove the employee back to the repair shop in Corydon, Iowa, to retrieve the truck. Jake Rieger Farms directed him to drive the vehicle - which still lacked proper registration - back to Nebraska. The company told the driver to start his return trip after law enforcement personnel left the area. When the driver refused to do so, the company immediately terminated him and forced him to find his own transportation home to Nebraska, a distance of about 170 miles.
OSHA has ordered Jake Rieger Farms to pay the driver $25,000 in punitive damages and $30,000 in compensatory damages which includes back wages, repayment for tickets paid by the driver that were issued by the Iowa DOT, attorney fees, transportation back to Nebraska and compensation for distress.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Both parties have 30 days from the receipt of OSHA's findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. More information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
Release Number: 16-421-KAN
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