The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. to compensate a worker who refused to drive in violation of safety regulations. OSHA has also ordered the trucking company, based in Auburn, Wash., to stop retaliating against workers who refuse to drive trucks while too ill or fatigued to safely operate vehicles at its facilities.

A commercial truck driver working for the company in Portland was suspended without pay indefinitely before being fired in September 2010 in retaliation for refusing to drive in violation of the Ill or Fatigued Operator Rule enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

OSHA's investigation found the driver had notified the company that he was sick and taking a prescribed narcotic cough suppressant. Upon his termination, the worker filed a whistleblower complaint under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which protects drivers from retaliation for refusing to violate truck safety laws that protect them and the public.

"Punishing workers for exercising their right to refuse driving assignments is against the law," said David L. Mahlum, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Seattle. "A company cannot place its attendance policies ahead of the safety of its drivers and that of the public."

OSHA determined that the attendance policy of Oak Harbor Freight Lines punishes drivers by issuing them notices of "occurrences," which can result in disciplinary action or termination for failing to drive, regardless of possible safety concerns. OSHA is requiring the employer to compensate the employee for lost wages and has ordered the company to remove any occurrences from the driver's personnel file. The employer will also be required to post a notice for drivers to read and learn about their lawful rights under the STAA.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health-care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.