OSHA Supports Drivers Who Refuse to Violate the Law


Hours of service (HOS) regulations are intended to prevent truck drivers from driving while they are dangerously tired. Other Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules require sick leave for ill drivers and those taking prescription narcotics. These regulations protect all drivers and passengers from the serious tractor-trailer accidents that become more likely when a sick or exhausted truck driver is behind the wheel. Yet trucking companies often push their employees to work, regardless of their physical condition. Drivers may acquiesce out of fear of losing their jobs or being demoted to a less desirable shift.

In fact, this happened to one driver who worked for Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc. The driver notified his employer that he was too sick to drive and was under the influence of a narcotic cough suppressant prescribed by his doctor. In response, the company fired him.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.” Both the employer and the driver knew that to drive while sick, tired and impaired would violate federal regulations. However, the employer chose to ignore the law, while the driver did what was right. He stood up for himself and eventually won his case, citing protection by the Surface Transportation Act, which prohibits an employer from taking action against an employee who refuses to operate a commercial vehicle for the following reasons:

  • If doing so would violate regulations, standards or orders pertaining to vehicle safety, health or security
  • If the driver fears serious injuries to her or himself or to the public because of a hazardous safety or security issue

U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered the company to compensate the worker and to stop retaliating against workers who refuse to drive while too sleep-deprived or sick to drive safely. As OSHA's Seattle regional administrator explained, "A company cannot place its attendance policies ahead of the safety of its drivers and that of the public."



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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