OSHA recently ordered a Massachusetts-based commercial motor carrier to reinstate a former employee and pay him back wages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages after an investigation. The investigation concluded that an organization and its owner improperly retaliated against an employee who refused to drive hours that exceeded those permitted under statutory regulations for motor carriers. That statute (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations) set forth that a driver on duty had to have 34 hours of rest before driving again.
The driver who was retaliated against in this instance refused to drive from Quincy to Milford for more than his allowed hours without rest. OSHA’s regional administrator explained that an employer may not retaliate by taking an adverse action against an employee who is following the laws associated with his or her work.
Although this citation only affected a specific motor carrier, it is important to understand that public policy disfavors employees being forced to press beyond statutory regulations. Laws such as the statute mentioned above are put in place for purposes of worker safety. Driving an excessive number of hours increases the risk of serious injury not only to the driver and all passengers, but other motorists on the road as well. Even if you do not get in an accident with another vehicle, driving for long periods of time can place a strain on your back and other muscles, causing strain and injury.
If an employer requires you to break the law, such as by driving an excessive number of hours, and you are hurt as a result, you should be aware that you will likely only be covered by workers’ compensation insurance for any resulting injuries. Depending upon the circumstances you may not be able to sue your employer for personal injury damages.
The workers’ compensation system in many states is a trade-off. In exchange for giving up your right to sue an employer for a work-related injury, you get workers’ compensation benefits regardless of fault.
If you are the driver at fault in an accident, others injured in that accident may sue you for their personal injuries. In 2008, there were 843,308 buses operating on a nation-wide basis. That year, there were 11,000 bus crashes that included injuries. 24,000 were injured in these crashes. Those who are injured in bus crashes (or any other vehicle crashes) may sue the company hired as well as the driver of the vehicle for their damages. The potential causes of action and available damages are extensive in a personal injury lawsuit. If you are the driver of a bus or other mass transit, you should be aware of this potential outcome of driving an excessive number of hours.
If your employer pushes you to drive more hours than are permitted by statute, you can refuse. The government does not permit an employer to retaliate against you for refusal to violate statutory regulations regarding your work. This includes protection for refusal to work in unsafe conditions (such as when you have driven longer than permitted by statute and can no longer drive safely). Rather than put yourself or others at risk, you should consider filing a complaint with the secretary of labor and OSHA.
If you are a driver who has been hurt in a work-related accident, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help you file a claim. You may be able to recover for the time you are unable to work as well as medical expenses or disability. Ask the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates what you should do. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.