Being a owner/operator is one the most stressful jobs a person can take on. There are multiple pressures being applied from many different directions. Driver's have to deal with brokers, dispatchers, shippers, carriers, DOT, weather and traffic just to name a few.
All of these situations constantly require that driver's adjust to changing schedules and uncontrollable events to meet the demand of the market. Being able to navigate all of these situations helps build a reputation in the industry as someone who can get things done. However, when the feedback that driver's start to get from these outside sources request that they do something against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) that is when things get risky.
What is coercion?
According to the FMCSA coercion occurs when a motor carrier, shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary threatens to withhold work from, take employment action against, or punish a driver for refusing to operate in violation of certain provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs) and the Federal Motor Carrier Commercial Regulations (FMCCRs).
The purpose of enforcing coercion rules is to prohibit motor carriers, shippers, receivers, or transportation intermediaries from coercing drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in violation of certain provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), including drivers' hours-of-service limits, the commercial driver's license (CDL) regulations, drug and alcohol testing rules, and the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs).
Why is coercion bad for carriers?
Trying to convince driver's to look over regulations in order to make shipments increases the risk to the driver and the general public on the road. For a driver who tries to do things by the book, this kind of conduct puts them in a tough spot. It makes the driver look like they are not a team player and not willing to do what needs to be done to get loads delivered. Allowing drivers to be placed into these situations is a main reason that driver churn rate can be high and why they leave to work for other carriers.
Being able to stand up against coercion and documenting everything that your company does is essential in protecting you from the risk associated with violating regulations.
What are some examples of coercion?
If there are situations which the driver is told to perform an action that is against the law or against industry regulations with the threat of losing their job, missing out on future loads or any other form of punishment is coercion. Here are some situations that coercion can pop up.
You get to your pick up site where you are getting loaded with beverages for delivery to a distribution center. Once you are loaded you notice that your onboard scale system says that you are over your 80,000 lb limit for driving on public roads.
When you bring this up to the shipper and provide the calibration data for your scaling system they tell you that it is company policy that you leave the site and get a scale ticket and bring it back to get the load adjusted.
Driving 40+ miles to a scale will set your driving hours back over 2 hours and force you miss the delivery because you already know you will have to take it back to get it adjusted to drive legally. The shipper tells you that they load 30 trucks a day and they never overweight. They tell you if you have a problem you can leave the load and they will give it to someone else who will take it.
You are on your way to make a delivery but on the way to run into an accident that shuts the interstate down for 2 hours. This incident sets your available driving hours back and you won't be able to make the delivery with the driving hours you have available. You tell your carrier and they tell you to use personal conveyance to make the delivery and they will fix the log later.
You tell the carrier you don't feel comfortable doing this because you are advancing a load and falsifying your logbook. The carrier tries to shift the blame on you for missing the delivery in the first place and suggest that they will just give loads to other drivers who can do what they are told.
You are performing your Daily Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) for the day before heading out to get your load. While inspecting your trailer you notice that one of the welds on your cross member is broken. You tell the carrier that the cross member is broken and you can't use the trailer to haul. The carrier tells you he will just find another driver who will take the trailer to get the load.
How do you file a coercion complaint?
All coercion complaints must be filed with in 90 days since the attempt took place. Coercion complaints can be filed even if there has not been a violation issued for the event.
When a coercion event is happening it is important to get as much of it recorded as possible. Keeping text messages and emails that involve coercion attempts is key. Also, speaking with any witnesses who saw the coercion attempts taking place will also help the complaint.
You can file a coercion complaint with the FMCSA by filling out the required forms on the National Consumer Complaint Database or by mailing the complaint and supporting documents to Division Office in the state that the coercion event took place.
You may also file a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA makes sure that drivers are heard and protected from the risk of retaliation. Click here to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA.
What are the penalties for coercion?
Any party that is found guilty of coercion can be fined up to $16,000 for the occurrence. A carrier that is found in violation of coercion can also have their operating authority revoked under 49 U.S.C. 13905 in some instances.