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STAA Protects Truck Drivers From Retaliation For Refusing To Drive While Ill or Fatigued

The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(i) prohibits employers from retaliating against truck drivers who refuse to drive a truck because driving the truck would violate 49 C.F.R. 392.3 which prevents employers from requiring a truck driver to drive, while the truck driver’s ability or alertness is impair, or likely to become impaired, through fatigue or illness. Under the STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(i) an employer cannot fire, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against a truck driver regarding pay, terms, or privileges of employment because the truck driver refuses to drive a truck in violation of 49 C.F.R. 392.3 because he/she is either ill or fatigued.

49 C.F.R. 392.3 states, “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle. . . .” In Yellow Freight System v. Reich, 27 F.3d 1133, (6th Cir. 1994) the court upheld the decision of the of the Secretary of Labor that the trucking company violated the STAA by disciplining and firing the driver for exercising his right not to drive while suffering from fatigue and awarded damages.

A truck driver who notifies his/her employer that he/she is unable to operate a truck due to fatigue or illness making it unsafe to begin or continue to operate a truck has likely engaged in protected activity for the purposes of STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(i) by politely and respectfully refusing operation a truck in violation of 49 C.F.R. 392.3. If the truck driver’s protected activity under 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(i) is a contributing factor in the employer’s decision to fire the truck driver, or discipline, or otherwise discriminate against the truck driver, the employer may have to respond in damages.

The STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(b)(1) requires a truck driver claiming to have been fired, disciplined, or otherwise discriminated in violation of the STAA to file a complaint not later than 180 days with the Secretary of Labor (OSHA). This is a very short limitations period in which to exercise your rights. If you believe that you were fired or otherwise retaliated against for refusing to drive a truck in violation of 49 C.F.R. 392.3 because you were ill or fatigued so as to make it unsafe to begin or continue to operate a truck, contact Brian J. Graber, Ltd., at (312) 291-4648 for a free confidential consultation as soon as possible before the 180 day statute runs.

Even if the 180 day timeframe to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor has run out you may still have rights under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/20 which prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for refusing to participate in any activity that would result in a violation of State or federal law, rule, or regulations. Similarly, a truck driver may have a cause of action against his/her employer for common law retaliatory discharge for whistleblowing and/or refusing to engage in conduct that would violate a federal regulation. Therefore, a truck driver’s refusal to operate a truck in violation of 49 C.F.R. 392.3 because of illness or fatigue making it unsafe begin or continue to operate a truck is likely protected activity under both the Illinois Whistleblower Act and Illinois common law retaliatory discharge. If an employer retaliates against a truck driver because the truck driver respectfully and politely refused to operate a truck in violation of 49 C.F.R. 392.3, the employer may be responsible for damages under both the Whistleblower Act and Illinois common law retaliatory discharge.

If you would like to learn more about your rights under the STAA, Illinois Whistleblower Act, and Illinois common law retaliatory discharge, contact Brian J. Graber, Ltd., at (312) 291-4648 for a free confidential consultation.