A truck driver fired for refusing to drive a company vehicle pulled from service by the Iowa Department of Transportation is owed $55,000 in back wages, damages and compensation from his employer, the finding of an OSHA investigation.

In its determination, the agency found Nebraska-based Jake Rieger Farms LLC violated the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982.

Fired on the spot

"No worker should face termination for complying with federal laws which protect the safety of the motoring public," said Marcia Drumm, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City. "In this case, Jake Rieger Farms retaliated against an employee who refused to drive a truck that Iowa law enforcement deemed unsafe. His employer fired him on the spot and left him to find his way home to Nebraska. OSHA is committed to protecting the rights of any worker to refuse unsafe and unlawful orders from their employer."

Forced him to find his own way home

On Jan. 16, 2015, Iowa commercial motor vehicle enforcement stopped and ticketed the driver of a Jake Rieger tractor-trailer truck for operating an unsafe tractor-trailer truck and for lacking proper state registration. The driver was directed to a repair shop, contacted his employer and returned to Nebraska. OSHA's investigation found on Jan. 22, 2015, a co-worker drove the employee back to the repair shop in Corydon, Iowa, to retrieve the truck. Jake Rieger Farms directed him to drive the vehicle - which still lacked proper registration - back to Nebraska. The company told the driver to start his return trip after law enforcement personnel left the area. When the driver refused to do so, the company immediately terminated him and forced him to find his own transportation home to Nebraska, a distance of about 170 miles.

OSHA has ordered Jake Rieger Farms to pay the driver $25,000 in punitive damages and $30,000 in compensatory damages which includes back wages, repayment for tickets paid by the driver that were issued by the Iowa DOT, attorney fees, transportation back to Nebraska and compensation for distress.