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I work in a laboratory in a team of 5 people. Being in Wisconsin, the winter months can bring storms that can make travel dangerous. I live close to work, >10 minute drive, as do two of my coworkers. My other two coworkers and my supervisor all have about a 30-40 minute commute.

Of the three of us that live in town, the other two have early shifts, starting around 6-6:30 and leaving 2:30-3. I work 8-4:30.

Yesterday, we had a snow storm come through that dropped freezing rain and then about 8" of snow. My supervisor told everyone to finish up what they had to and go home. One of my co-workers that commutes has work that needs to get done in the afternoon, typically arriving at the lab around 1:30 (but was late due to the snow). I asked my coworker if she wanted me to stay to help and she said no, so I went home around 2pm.

This morning, that coworker spoke to our supervisor about how it was unfair that she had to stay and work despite having a longer commute than some of the rest of us. She told me this as well, though did not accuse me if anything. I told her she could have asked me to stay and she told me she doesn't feel she should have to ask a coworker to stay over her, that that should be the supervisor's responsibility. I agree with this.

Our supervisor has called a meeting this afternoon and she told my coworker that this issue would be brought up. I'm not sure the best way for this issue to be resolved and, knowing my supervisor, I'm concerned at what her solution will be. Primarily, I'm concerned that, as a local employee that works later, I will be selected to cover work and stay anytime the weather gets bad, at the expense of getting my own work done. I am also concerned that I will get scolded for not offering to stay and am not sure how to respond to such a thing. However, I also understand that letting people leave early due to the weather is not an equality thing... That it's really only being done for the safety of the people who have to commute.

My question is this:

When there is poor weather, is it fair for people with longer commutes to be let off early, expecting those with shorter commutes to stay and finish their work? And on a personal level, if I am the only person with a short commute and the hours necessary to cover that work, should I be okay with being expected to always be the one covering that work?

I did try to search for this topic and did not see anything similar, but I also have not used this site much. If there's any issue with my question, please let me know and I will fix it in any way necessary.

  • The more logical thing here would be in Winter time to change the work hours of the three people living nearby to the later shifts, making turns of who keeps up until later between the three, and changing who lives father to the earlier shifts. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 23 '18 at 17:36
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    @RuiFRibeiro How does that help? Sometime it snows in the afternoon and you should leave early. Sometimes it snows in the morning and you should come late. Weather isn't really dependent on time of day. – David K Jan 23 '18 at 17:39
  • @DavidK The OP is focusing on who has to stay until late; travelling during the day it is less dangerous and there are more people out there to help you. Honestly, in her shoes, if I were the scapegoat selected to cover for the whole office every single day, I would start polishing my CV. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 23 '18 at 17:40
  • @AndreiROM My primary question is in the title, I asked multiple specific questions later in the body to explain what I was really looking for. I have seen this in many posts and it seems to help get a more clear answer. Sorry if that was confusing. – Krispyz Jan 23 '18 at 17:51
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    @Rui F Ribeiro unfortunately, the jobs we are trained in require specific people to have different hours. My department doesn't really shift around job responsibilities expect when individuals need to be covered due to time off/sickness, etc. In any case, that solution is beyond what I feel I could suggest to my supervisor. – Krispyz Jan 23 '18 at 17:54
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You've described one instance of the "non-work decisions affect work preferences/availability" problem. This more often manifests as deciding who has to work overtime to get the project done on time, with a push for people with fewer outside obligations (like kids) to take the bullet. Any inequitable distribution of the burden is guaranteed to breed resentment over time.

So what your team needs is a way to either (a) balance the load, meaning that where people live isn't relevant and they have to take their turns, or (b) compensate the person who gets stuck doing the undesirable thing (in your case, staying later and driving home in ice and snow). These two approaches can be combined; it's common in hospital work, for example, to distribute the shifts so everybody gets stuck with the undesirable shifts sometimes and certain shifts (like on holidays) pay extra. I know people who try to take more of the undesirable shifts because they want the extra money, and people who are happy to give them up to help them. Your snow days aren't as regular as third shifts, of course, but the approach can still work: rotate the snow-coverage assignment evenly through the group, compensate the person who does it in some way, and allow people to trade. If your supervisor doesn't have budget to pay bonuses, perhaps comp time or some perk could be found.

If it is neither evenly distributed nor compensated, your supervisor should not be surprised when the people who live closer develop urgent needs to leave early sometimes too.

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    I am accepting this answer. The compensate method is what I eventually brought up and it was accepted by my supervisor. – Krispyz Jan 24 '18 at 0:20
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    To add to this it's possible the people who live near work are already paying more in rent to live near work so if their boss gives time off to others who have chosen to save money by living farther away they are being double penalized. – user10399 Jan 24 '18 at 14:26
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I asked my coworker if she wanted me to stay to help and she said no, so I went home around 2pm.

You offered to help, she refused your help so it's not really your problem. You might need to make your supervisor aware of this (in private) so they have all the facts.

In an ideal world if there is an adverse weather warning everyone should get to leave at the same time, but I wouldn't complain if people with a longer commute were let out early.

It's up to everyone to make sure that any urgent work is completed and things are left in a safe state, but ultimately it's your supervisor's responsibility. In this situation they should have either asked your co-worker themselves if they were OK staying a bit later to finish up or your co-worker should have brought it up with your supervisor at the time.

I don't see that there's anything else you could have done, or need to do now.

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    My supervisor was in the room with us when I offered, so she is aware of the fact. To be fair, I only offered to stay and help, I did not offer to take over her work so that she could go home early. I believe she said no to my offer because she felt guilty about asking me to stay, not because she couldn't use the help. I'm not sure if that really changes anything. – Krispyz Jan 23 '18 at 17:49
  • At the end of the day, it is not your fault some people live farther and you live near. People accepted willingly the job already knowing that. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 23 '18 at 17:57
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If people are being let off early to avoid dangerous driving conditions the primary focus should be on everyone being off of the road before the bad weather hits; anything else is secondary. With that in mind I think it's completely reasonable to let off people with the longest commute earliest.

From a supervisory perspective if the differences are large enough that it leads to inequity (10 min commute vs 90 minute commute) these inequities should be resolved in the days or weeks following either with early leave being caught up on (if that fits within local labor laws and agreements). For a 30 minute difference in leave I wouldn't really bother with trying to even things out. I'd just advise the lab that I appreciate people stepping up to make sure everything that needed doing got done.

Any supervisor worth their salt would not reprimand you for putting lab priorities ahead of your own.

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I just don't understand why this is even a question.

Any place I've ever worked had a simple and clear policy along the lines of, "in case of inclement weather the office will close". Period. Either it's "safe" for everyone to travel to and from the office, or it's not.

Just from a liability perspective, if any of the people who were expected to work while others were sent home (or told not to come in) because it was "too dangerous" were to be injured due to the storm, wow. It's not at all hard to imagine the lawsuit that could ensue as a result of that.

I myself would not accept this premise that because my commute is shorter, it's safer for me to travel. If the office was open and people really didn't feel comfortable making the trip they would take a vacation/personal day, or work from home. Very simple. Very fair. It's not your fault other people live far away, why should you cover for that?

  • Most places I worked, allowed employees to make their own decision on how safe it was to get home. It's rarely a clear decision and the risks are weighed against the work that needs to get done. This was in areas where the weather can be unpredictable, so if the report is 2-6" of snow, you don't know what you're going to get and may end up sleeping on the floor. – user8365 Jan 24 '18 at 18:39
  • I work in a laboratory. Unless there's a tornado or something immediately dangerous to the lab, we are expected to be open (our front office stayed open with a skeleton crew for our entire business hours). However, we only run a few tests that are required to get done in a given day. The co-worker in question runs one of those tests. My supervisor told everyone (not just those with commutes) to finish what needed to get done and go home when we could. – Krispyz Jan 25 '18 at 18:44
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One argument point I would make is that length of commute does not necessarily equate to more or less danger/hazards in poor weather conditions.

In my area, I know a few routes that take shorter times, but during snow storms become hazardous only because the roads don't get salt/plowed. Another route is longer distances, but easy to drive since it gets salted/plowed by DOT services.

So I don't think one should necessarily say a longer commute/distances should be let go first. Since you'd know the area, you can make arguments like, "Oh boss, you're forgetting highway X always get clogged because of Y but it's smooth driving compared to route Z."

  • Good points. Traveling by train or bus would be another factor. – user8365 Jan 24 '18 at 18:41

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