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Suppose there is a forecasted blizzard where the government has advised not to drive. I would like to leave work early in order to get home before the blizzard (or not come to work at all that day) My employer threatens to fire me if I do this.

What is the best approach? I'm interested in how likely it is for an employer to actually follow through on such a threat and what recourse I would have of he did. Would I be able to sue for wrongful termination? Would I be eligible for unemployment?

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closed as not constructive by ReallyTiredOfThisGame, Paul Brown, gnat, jcmeloni, Adam V Feb 11 '13 at 19:18

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The job is not in "essential services" such as police, fire, medical, etc. –  Darren Feb 10 '13 at 19:47
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This may be a "contact a lawyer" question, as it will depend heavily on your local laws. –  Joe Baker Feb 10 '13 at 20:25
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What legal jurisdiction are you in? –  DJClayworth Feb 10 '13 at 22:25
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It is in the united states –  Darren Feb 11 '13 at 2:31
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What state are you in? In MA it is illegal to drive during a blizzard if the government have declared the roads to be closed/state of emergency. –  Simon O'Doherty Feb 11 '13 at 8:27
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2 Answers 2

OK, the question of a lawsuit is really a lawyer question and we simply can't cover it here. I would bet very strongly that this has a LOT to do with the nature of the job, the nature of any agreements you signed, and the laws in your area.

For example, there were quite a few people absolutely required to work in MA during the emergency this weekend - all the people plowing roads and working other emergency services, people working in hosipitals, people running critical networks, etc. Given that not showing up could kill other people if you work in the critical care unit of a hospital - there's some valid reasons out there for dragging someone in.

Only you can really know the lay of the land and the nature of your role. Things to consider:

  • What is the impact to your company and its work if EVERYONE makes the decision you want to make? That's highly variable - in a SW company, the work slips by a day. In theater, the show loses BIG money. In healthcare, there's a body count. The level of impact has a lot to do with your employers' likelihood to follow through on threats.

  • A corallary here is what are the work at home options? Can you create some? I've gotten away with "how about I take my laptop and catch up on that paperwork? or so some self-training? or research this new idea online?" even when there isn't a formal work at home policy.

  • What is your work history and your particular situation? Judgements against you here will have a lot to do with overall performance. The person who ALWAYS wants to leave early will get a reputation. Maybe you won't get fired in this crisis, but a high absence rate over a long period will absolutely impact your career eventually.

  • How do you fit with most people? It's true that the guy with the daily 2 hour drive gets the lousy end of the expectation game when everyone else in the office is 20 minutes away. I know quite a few people who have long commutes who of necessity also have local places to stay as emergency options for this reason.

  • What's everyone else doing? I truly hate management lemming-style, but the truth is, if the whole team decides that it's unsafe, you're in a pretty good position to outweigh your manager. Once more than half a team is gone, it's pretty hard to get anything done.

  • What can you make work? Weather patterns, reliability of forecasts and local conditions are highly variable. Do enough research before making a decision to decide what's feasible. Update accordingly when and if you make the drive.

  • Ask the office about emergency options - if there's a real driving ban, then will they pay for the ticket and reimburse you for loosing your license? If you can get to work but not get home, are there emergency places to stay? What's the disaster contingency for the building and your unit? These are valid questions and worth knowing about. Realize that a big business likely has something pretty codified, a small business may be making it up as they go along.

  • Pick your time. 2 days before a blizzard is NOT the time to ask the boss. I'd advise - 1 day before the blizzard, ask about the process for deciding about whether or not the office is closed and how you'll keep in touch in the event of an emergency. Keep any lines of communication open and 12 hours before the blizzard, check in again if you haven't heard emergency updates.

I can tell you from experience (at least in MA) that over the years weather forecasts have been unpredictable enough that employers won't just cancel everything 24 hours ahead. They'll wait and ask people to use their best judgement. Trying to angle for a fixed solution too far ahead of realistic forecasts won't win you any fans, because managers tend to get slammed by worker requests before they get anything official from above.

Be aware of communication flows and the overall situation in your company above any single solution.

And - most importantly - let common sense win. If your area has awful and unsafe conditions, don't risk life and limb.

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"In theater, the show looses BIG money." -> Only if people actually come to the show. :) –  Adam V Feb 11 '13 at 19:16
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Actually, I think the show loses big money. –  mikeTheLiar Feb 11 '13 at 19:48
    
@mikeTheLiar - right! Fixed! Thanks! –  bethlakshmi Feb 12 '13 at 18:45
    
@AdamV - not sure I follow you, I suspect you're joking, but with no inflection, I'm not sure I follow you... –  bethlakshmi Feb 12 '13 at 18:45
    
@bethlakshmi - yes, I was joking. Just pointing out that if the weather's bad enough that it's difficult to get to the theater, it's also unlikely you'll get a lot of people coming to see the show. :) –  Adam V Feb 12 '13 at 18:56
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Your employer did not force you to drive in unsafe conditions. All they told you to do was to stay at work until your contracted time was up. It was then entirely up to you what you did after that. You had a number of options:

  • Take public transport
  • Take a taxi
  • find a hotel near your work
  • Take a vacation day and go home
  • Stay at work until the snow has stopped
  • Depending on your workplace regulations, sleep in the office.

I'm sorry if that sounds brutal, but that is how a lawyer is going to see it.

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Taxi? Public Transportation? Are you serious? I already said it is unsafe to drive. They are not available and if for some crazy reason were, they would be just as unsafe as driving. How do I get to a hotel without driving? This is a suburban office park not in walking distance of a hotel. If a vacation day were an option I would not bother to ask this question... That would obviously be fair enough –  Darren Feb 11 '13 at 2:34
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There is no option of sleeping at work. And driving home is literally life threatening since one could get stuck on a highway, run put of gas, and have no heat and probably no food –  Darren Feb 11 '13 at 2:37
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Perhaps a bit off topic but is it too much to ask for employers to exhibit some basic human empathy? Would they appreciate being put in this situation themselves? –  Darren Feb 11 '13 at 2:39
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-1: As the OP pointed out, the first couple solutions aren't appropriate, as they aren't safe, the fourth won't fly in lots of places due to lack of approval, and the fifth may require days to be useful. Unfortunately, some employers aren't above threatening to fire you if you fail to show up, even in life-threatening conditions. Yeah, you may win a lawsuit, but that's a major hassle, and if you need a paycheck now, that's little consolation. –  GreenMatt Feb 11 '13 at 3:39
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I have to -1. There's no public transportation between my apartment and office. If the roads are closed (as was the case in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the recent storm), taxis are also out of the question. Finding a hotel may not be possible without driving. For a multi-day or extremely intense storm, waiting it out in the office may not be possible. Sleeping in the office isn't a suitable solution unless the office is properly equipped. The only viable option that you present is to use vacation time, which is my company's policy unless the facility is closed for all employees. –  Thomas Owens Feb 11 '13 at 18:21
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