OSHA has again ordered Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. to stop retaliating against truck drivers who refuse to drive when they feel too ill or fatigued.

The order comes after Oak Harbor suspended a 25-year commercial truck operator without pay at its Portland, Oregon, terminal after he did not feel well enough to drive. The driver filed a whistleblower complaint, citing violation of safe operating rules under the Surface Transportation Safety Act.

Drivers face discipline for getting ill

After its investigation, OSHA ordered the trucking company to pay $20,000 in punitive damages and $354 to the driver for his suspension. This is the second time the agency has found Oak Harbor retaliated against a truck driver who invoked federal safety rules.

OSHA investigators also found that the company's attendance policy encouraged drivers to operate trucks while sick or exhausted. Drivers absent due to illness or exhaustion had negative notes placed in their personnel records and faced possible discipline or termination. OSHA has repeatedly asked Oak Harbor to change the attendance policy, but the company has not complied.

"Forcing ill or tired drivers behind the wheel puts their lives and the lives of others at risk," said Ken Atha, OSHA regional administrator in Seattle. "Oak Harbor's continued refusal to revise its attendance policy shows a reckless and callous indifference to employees' rights and public safety."

OSHA: Get rid of the negative comments

In addition to the damages and compensation for the suspension, OSHA has ordered Oak Harbor to remove any negative comments from the driver's personnel file. Both the driver and the company may file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.

Based in Auburn, Washington, Oak Harbor has facilities in five Western states. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 21 statutes, protecting employees who report violations of various commercial motor carrier, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, public transportation agency, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, railroad, maritime, health care reform, food safety, securities and financial reform laws.

Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.