Driving a commercial truck is a job that requires a great deal of attention over a long and sometimes boring road. If the job seems easy to you, try it sometime. On top of the technical requirements of driving a big rig and the legal requirements of knowing the rules of the road, it can be really quite difficult to keep your mind on driving — even though failing to do so could have catastrophic repercussions.
All the same, CDL driving is just a job like any other. You’re expected to show up on time every day and work your assigned shift. Too many missed days of work and you’re out, right?
Not so fast. The federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act gives drivers the authority to refuse to drive if they’re too sick to safely do so. If a company tries to force a driver to do so anyway, that company can be fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
This recently happened to a Frito Lay driver who was too sick to work on two occasions. According to the industry journal Overdrive, his attempt to do the right thing got him disciplined.
It turns out that Frito Lay has a “no-fault, five-step attendance policy, which establishes progressive discipline for unauthorized absences.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you have a very good reason — you’re out after five absences.
It’s unclear exactly what discipline the driver faced, but he appealed the decision to OSHA. An investigation found that he was well within his rights under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act to have refused to drive. He was under his doctor’s orders to do so.
Since Frito Lay has a “no-fault” policy, the driver couldn’t have avoided discipline by showing the company a doctor’s note. He was disciplined merely for exercising his rights under the law.
The driver was given $1,500 in compensatory damages for the wrongful discipline, along with $10,000 in punitive damages, which were meant to punish Frito Lay for its bad behavior. Frito Lay will also have to pay his attorney’s fees in the amount of $5,915. Frito Lay could appeal, of course.
In many areas of the law, it’s illegal to take negative employment actions against someone merely for trying to exercise their rights. In other words, if someone files a rightful workers’ compensation claim, makes a legitimate discrimination complaint, or refuses to work in a dangerous job when they’re sick, companies can’t retaliate. They can’t discipline, demote or fire people for standing up for their rights.
If you’re in a situation where standing up for your rights could result in discipline or wrongful termination, make it a priority to talk to an attorney.