In a case the likes of which have not often been seen in the logistics industry, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered NFI, a large asset-based third party logistics provider (3PL), to immediately reinstate a driver who was fired nearly four years ago. The driver was fired after he determined he could not deliver a load to its intended destination without violating federal driver hours-of-service guidelines, but developed an alternate plan to get the load moved while remaining within the law.
OSHA ordered NFI, which is referred to in an agency statement by its formal name of NFI Interactive Logistics Inc., to pay the driver, whom the agency identified only as a male, more than $276,000 in back wages and related damages. The company was directed not to retaliate against the driver, to expunge any documents mentioning his discharge, and to make no adverse statements about the termination or relating to the facts in the case.
In addition, NFI was told to immediately post, in a conspicuous workspace location, a signed and dated notice informing employees of the order, and of their rights under federal law. OSHA, which is part of the Department of Labor, enforces the "whistleblower provisions" contained in 22 statutes that protect employees who report violations within various industries, including trucking.
According to the OSHA preliminary order, which was issued Tuesday, NFI assigned the driver to deliver a truckload of Poland Spring bottled water from Northborough, Mass., to Jersey City, N.J. However, a combination of reduced visibility from severe thunderstorms, flooded roads, heavy traffic, and multiple car accidents made the trip take significantly longer than normal. The driver, believing he didn't have enough time to complete the delivery and return home without violating the hours-of-service rules, delivered the load to a closer customer facility in nearby Kearny, N.J., and then helped arrange to have another driver take the load on to Jersey City, the order said.
Though NFI initially objected to the load being taken to Kearny, both the company and Poland Spring officials eventually approved the new arrangement, according to the order. The delivery was completed without the original driver violating the hours-of-service rules, OSHA said. Yet he was fired the following day, OSHA said. The driver subsequently filed a whistleblower complaint with the agency, which after an inquiry found the complaint had merit.
OSHA charged NFI with violating federal anti-retaliation laws. "Drivers have the right to raise legitimate safety concerns to their employer," said Kim Stille, OSHA's New England regional administrator. "NFI must reverse its actions and compensate this driver for the financial and other losses he has suffered as a result of his illegal termination."
NFI and the driver have 30 days from receiving OSHA's findings to file any objections, and to request a hearing before the Department of Labor's Office of Administrative Law Judges. In a statement, NFI said it plans to do just that. The company said it "strongly objects" to the order and will seek a trial to "correct the facts on which the preliminary findings were made." OSHA, which is part of the Labor Department, did not return several requests for comment beyond the statement announcing the order.
Based in Cherry Hill, N.J., privately held NFI generates about $1.2 billion in annual revenue and operates 2,300 tractors with 2,850 drivers, virtually all of whom are company employees.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include the statement from NFI.