The trucking industry has been waiting for it, and now it is here. The FMCSA recently issued its final rule on truck driver coercion. The idea of this rule was first introduced when the FMCSA and OSHA adopted a joint memorandum of understanding about certain anti-retaliation provisions of a law that was originally passed in 1982 (long before the FMCSA was ever created). Since that memorandum was adopted in June of 2014, the FMCSA has been working on getting a final rule published.
The purpose of the rule as told by the FMCSA is to provide the FMCSA with the ability to prevent companies from coercing their employees into breaking safety regulations. The rule gives the agency teeth to punish companies forcing their drivers to go over hours limits, shirk licensing regulations, or not reporting dangerous situations.
This rule is being implemented despite the fact that drivers of trucks have had whistleblower protection from this type of activity for quite some time. Nonetheless, the FMCSA has adopted this additional rule for their own purposes.
What the Rule Does When Effective
There are three major parts to this rule. First the rule provides a mechanism for truck drivers to report occasions of coercion to the agency. Next, it outlines the procedures the agency will take in wake of any allegations. And finally, what penalties the agency will issue to companies found to have coerced their drivers.
The agency takes their authority to make this rule from 49 U.S.C. 31136(a). That section of U.S. law allows the Department of Transportation to make rules to ensure that:
- trucks are properly maintained and equipped;
- truck driver responsibilities do not interfere with safe operation of motor vehicles;
- truck drivers are in good physical condition; and,
- operation of trucks does not adversely affect drivers.
Those are the provisions that the agency uses to create this rule on coercion. Even though the statute does not actually mention coercion, it is not clear whether there will be a legal challenge against the rule in the courts. Though given the agency’s history with rulemaking, it would not be surprising if industry power brokers take the rule to the courts.
Starting in January of 2016 the rule will become effective. Drivers will then be able to report any coercive activity they encounter to the agency. Every report will be investigated, and if the agency finds that the report was true, companies will be punished. Punishments would come in the form of fines of up to $16,000.
Changing Landscape of Industry
This rule underscores the ever changing landscape of the trucking industry. With the advent of this new agency in the last few years, the trucking industry can expect to experience even more changes in the future. This change requires every trucking company in the industry to have a plan so they can whether the changes. At Anderson and Yamada, P.C. we have been helping trucking companies plan for the future and navigate the present for decades. Contact us for all your trucking company’s legal needs.