Workers Have Little Legal Relief When Forced To Commute In Snowy Conditions

Posted at 6:36 PM, Jan 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-29 10:41:05-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Even though winter weather driving conditions are very dangerous, employees have little protection against bosses who make them come to work on horrible roads and put their lives and property in danger.

“My car started sliding,” said Tammy Cross. “I went sideways.”  Cross was on the way home from work when disaster struck on US-131 between 44th Street and 54th Street in Wyoming.

“Another little vehicle came up from behind and hit the passenger car or the passenger side, spun me around, and ended up hitting the wall,” said Cross.

She had even tried to leave work early to avoid the chaos, but it was no use.

“I was heading home,” said Cross. “I got out of work early. I was praying, ‘Jesus, Please help me.'”

When it comes to getting to and from work safely, employees have little protection if their company stays open in dangerous conditions and they want to refuse to come into work .

“It tends much more to be a matter of responsibility and judgment on the part of the employer,” said attorney David Fernstrum. There are some protections if you work in the transportation field, such as driving a bus or semi truck, he says.

“Under the occupational safety laws, any employee that feels he or she is  put into a substantial risk of serious injury or death from what the employer is asking them to do has the right to decline to do so.”

Also, according to Fernstrum, if you are a salaried employee and the business closes, you can’t be docked pay because you missed work. That’s a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, they can force you to use a personal day or sick day if they are available.

“Your employer can require you to use available benefit banks of paid time off,” said Fernstrum. “But, if you were out of vacation because you took it all last week to go to Mexico, your employer still could not dock your pay.”

As for hourly workers, unless they have protections in a union contract, they are at the mercy of company policy. There is no legal protection to get paid if the company closes up shop due to a snow day.

“Legally, employers have to pay for hours actually worked and nothing more,” said Fernstrum.

When it comes to snow emergencies that are sometimes issued by counties, Fernstrum said companies are not obligated to close when one is issued.