Since early 2012 there have been a number of documented instances of termination for commercial motor vehicle operators who refused to drive because of safety-related or regulatory compliance issues. Subsequently, the fleet operator was sanctioned for these employee terminations.

Drivers who refuse to operate commercial motor vehicles due to legitimate safety-related or regulatory compliance issues, such as vehicle deficiencies, driver health or lack of operating authority, should not be disciplined for their actions. Punishing a driver who is rightfully concerned about the safe operation of his or her vehicle opens the company up to a number of liability issues, and sends the wrong message about safety to the entire enterprise.

In one recent case, two employees were driving vehicles that they did not have the proper licenses to operate. The vehicles also lacked the required identification markings. After one was stopped by the state police, both drivers refused to operate their vehicles until the applicable regulations were followed. The drivers were consequently fired by their employer. The terminated drivers filed complaints with the Department of Labor that were subsequently investigated by OSHA. The employer was found to be in violation of employee whistleblower protections.

The initial ruling awarded the employees a significant amount of back pay and punitive damages. The employer appealed the case through the court system. The judge presiding over the appeal ruled in favor of the Department of Labor, saying the termination of the drivers violated whistleblower protections contained in the 1982 Surface Transportation Assistance Act. The company was ordered to reinstate the drivers and pay them according to the initial determination.

"No truck driver should be forced to drive while tired, sick or in violation of truck weight or hours-of-service requirements," according to a senior OSHA official. "OSHA will continue to defend America's truck drivers against unscrupulous employers who unlawfully retaliate against drivers who assert their right to drive safely."