whistleblowerA supervisor who raised safety concerns after a driver was told to pull a trailer without a valid license plate was wrongfully terminated, according to OSHA, which has ordered Stericycle Inc.of Wichita, Kansas to reinstate the employee.

The finding that the company violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act has resulted in an order that the company pay back wages and damages of $261,787 to the employee, and remove any references to the disciplinary action from his record. The company must also provide notification of whistleblower protection rights to its employees.

Protected activity

"When workers can't report safety concerns on the job without fear of losing it, worker safety and health suffers," said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City, Missouri.

OSHA's investigation confirmed that the former employee engaged in protected activity when he reported safety concerns to management that drivers were told to violate U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. It was determined that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the company's decision to terminate his employment on Sept. 14, 2012, in direct violation of STAA.

No previous problems

The supervisor had been employed by Stericycle Inc., based in Lake Forest, Illinois, a specialist in biohazard waste disposal, and had not been disciplined or received an unsatisfactory employment report previously.

Either party in this case can file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.

STAA covers private sector drivers and other commercial motor carrier employees. Companies covered by STAA may not discharge their employees or retaliate against them for refusing to operate a vehicle that would violate a federal commercial motor vehicle rule related to safety, health, or security, or because they had a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to themselves or to the public related to a vehicle's safety or security condition.

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, railroad, maritime and securities laws.