KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The U.S. Department of Labor has entered into a settlement agreement with Knoxville-based Heartland Transportation Inc., a contract mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, to resolve findings by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that an employee was terminated for complaining about defective vehicles, in violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.
“OSHA will continue to ensure that the whistleblower protection provisions of the STAA are properly and thoroughly enforced, while always keeping open the opportunity for settlement negotiations,” said Cindy A. Coe, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta. “In this case, we are pleased to enter into a settlement agreement that solidifies this commitment.”
In August 2009, the employee was assigned to deliver a truckload of U.S. mail to a customer in Pontiac, Mich., when he found that his assigned trailer had a nonworking light. After he complained, the light was repaired and the delivery made. The employee had complained about such mechanical failures on a number of previous occasions, but the problems recurred. Accordingly, he informed his employer that he would not drive trucks with such failures in the future. Upon returning to the company’s facility from Michigan, the driver found that his name had been removed from the driving schedule. He inquired about this development and was informed during a meeting to discuss the issue that his employment had been terminated. The employee then submitted a whistleblower complaint to OSHA, which conducted an investigation.
According to the settlement agreement, the company will pay the complainant $31,200, including $9,895 in back wages. Additionally, the company agreed to purge any personnel records regarding the involuntary discharge of the employee and provide a neutral reference to any prospective employers. The company also agreed to post a notice informing all employees of their right to raise safety concerns or conduct any other protected activity under the STAA without suffering retaliation.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe 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.