The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Gaines Motor Lines of N.C., along with company officials Tim Gaines and Rick Tompkins, to compensate four former truck drivers who were fired in violation of federal whistleblower laws and pay more than $1 million back pay wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages.

The whistleblower complaint alleged that four employees were terminated for participating in an inspection audit of the commercial motor carrier company's facility in Hickory, N.C., which was conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

From Feb. 28 through March 1, 2012, the four employees were interviewed on-site by the FMCSA. On March 8, following the audit and subsequent citations issued against Gaines Motor Lines, the workers suffered adverse retaliation by company officials, including termination, layoffs and removal of employee benefits, according to OSHA.

The order includes a preliminary reinstatement for three of the four employees. The fourth died in early 2013. The order also includes back wages, interest, and compensatory damages of $215,657 and punitive damages of $675,000.

Gaines Motor Lines has 95 power units and 88 drivers, according to the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System. It covers parts of the Southeast and Eastern Seaboard.

Either party to the case can file an appeal to the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges, but such an appeal does not suspend the preliminary reinstatement order.

Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.