Commercial drivers are protected from retaliation if they refuse to operate their vehicles in violation of U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) safety rules that restrict the number of hours they may drive without resting.
Firing or demoting someone for refusing to break those rules may be retaliation under the federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which was designed to cut down on accidents and highway deaths caused by commercial drivers operating trucks on too little sleep.
Recent case: William Bettner worked for Crete Trucking as a commercial truck driver until he was essentially demoted. He claimed he had been retaliated against because he refused to break DOT driving rules governing the maximum number of hours per day that drivers are allowed to operate trucks.
But Crete argued it had demoted Bettner because he couldn’t seem to manage his schedule or plan his routes to get where he needed to be on time, not because he refused to work longer hours than the law allowed.
The court sided with Crete, largely because Bettner couldn’t prove that he had to break the law to get deliveries where they needed to be in the allotted time. (Bettner v. Administrative Review Board, No. 07-2679, 7th Cir., 2008)
Final note: This case turned out well for the employer because it didn’t have unreasonable expectations. Had Bettner been able to show it was impossible for him to get where he needed to be and still meet DOT regulations, he might have won.
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