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I cycle to work every day, it's my only method of transportation. Public transit doesn't serve the commute path and I don't own a car. A coworker was recently in a bike accident and was out for 2 days, and my manager reacted by getting upset that work wasn't getting done, and now he's sent out an email to everyone saying that we're no longer allowed to bike into work because he can't risk us getting injured again. What should I do about this? Please note that my manager is in general incredibly unreasonable and loves to say no or take things away just to feel like he's in charge, so I don't think he'll listen to reason on this.

Should I just keep biking in and see what he does about it, or start spending $20/day on Ubers to commute?

If you're going to suggest finding another job, that's a great idea, but without also suggesting what to do in the meantime it's unhelpful.

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    Did he propose any alternative and if yes did he propose to cover the costs of it? Else, and although I'm not knowledgeable about US laws, I'm quite sure he doesn't have a say on your transportation at all. Having a bus factor of 1 is the real issue, not the way people commute; Anybody could die from a minute to another anyway, and i'm quite sure he can't forbid you to die... – Laurent S. Jul 2 at 14:41
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    What is your boss going to do to people who cycle in? What if a colleague is involved in a car/bus crash? Or a train derailment? Or is walking and gets hit by a vehicle or falls due to sidewalk conditions? Even if you take a ride share or taxi, you're not immune to accidents and injury on your commute, yet would be facing an increased cost. – Thomas Owens Jul 2 at 14:41
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    How does he feel about the risk of employees getting hurt whilst biking in other scenarios and not during commuting? – John Jul 3 at 2:01
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    Probably better suited to the Law site, because I don't think an employer can dictate your behavior outside of work. IANAL, though. – jamesqf Jul 3 at 5:07
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    Has nobody ever been in a car accident there? – mcalex Jul 3 at 6:19

11 Answers 11

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So... you're in an ugly situation. Your boss is reaching out to control parts of your life that are not his to dictate, and is apparently of the unreasonable and domineering type who will react very poorly indeed to any pushback. As for what to do about it (while you look for another job), it looks like you have three options.

  • You could keep biking in to work. If you're going to do that, you're going to have to assume that he will eventually notice. It leaves signs after all (additional sweat, loose lips, actually seeing you biking, and so forth). The question is what he's likely to do in response to this obvious opposition to his authority once he discovers it. Is he likely to fire you? Is he likely to yell at you? How bad is it likely to be? Are you willing to set yourself up for that happening? Assume that, whatever it is, it will happen eventually, and ask yourself if it's worth that experience.

  • You could make small amounts of pushback. Go to your boss, let him know that the only way you have to get to work is the bike, and that if he wants you to use Uber instead, you're going to need $20/day in expenses for it. Presenting it as "implementing this command will bear this cost" rather than "No, I won't do it" is likely going to be easier for him to swallow. Whether or not this is a good idea depends entirely on how you think he'd react to this, much lesser, level of pushback.

  • Finally, if your boss has enough threat over you to prevent even that, and is unreasonable enough to wield it indiscriminately to get what he wants without consideration of your needs, you can start paying tor Uber yourself. You should understand, though, that by doing that you're essentially accepting that your boss can make unreasonable demands of you (this is an unreasonable demand) and insist that you pay for them out of your own pocket and that, to at least some degree, you'll do it. That brings this into the realm of "unhealthy relationships", and means that, if at all possible, you need to get out soon, before it starts bending you psychologically in unhealthy ways.

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    Love this answer. The rest seem to focus on whether the manager is right (which he's not) but this one goes into what happens if a manager has a problem with you, regardless of who's right. – Kevin Jul 2 at 15:17
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    Would add the alternative suggestion to boss, that OP can also walk,but then will arrive half an hour later and leave earlier. If boss says, OP's private life and how he gets to work should not affect his work life, the natural recourse is that vice versa work life should not affect private life and boss should take back his overbearing into OP's private sphere. If he wants to have control over his commute, it's obviously part of the work life, counts as work time and expenses are on the boss. (Feel free to add that line of argument, if you wish, or not^^) – Frank Hopkins Jul 2 at 16:09
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    "Loose lips"? Where I am from, that phrase means sharing privileged information with unprivileged parties. What do you mean? – bishop Jul 2 at 16:12
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    @bishop I think this is what Ben is referring to - i.e. that someone at work will say something to someone else about the OP biking in and that it will ultimately get back to the boss. – motosubatsu Jul 2 at 16:36
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    Isn't talking to HR a possible course of action? – CramerTV Jul 3 at 1:22
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Your manager can't dictate the mode of transport that you use for commuting.

If he is as much concerned about the safety of employees while commuting, and insists on using (or avoiding) a particular mode of transport, either:

  • ask them to get you reimbursed for the viable mode by the company,

or

  • provide a company operated safer mode of transportation.
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    The argument really ends after the first line. There is no point in asking for reimbursement or safer mode of transportation. – Prison Mike Jul 2 at 15:13
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    @anal It's not as much about getting reimbursed, but to make an argument if the manager is insistent. – Nimesh Neema Jul 2 at 15:15
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    I guess what a manager can and cannot dictate in a country with a good chance that the manager can fire literally "at will" is open to discussion. – nvoigt Jul 2 at 15:58
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    @nvoigt The manager might want to avoid actually firing anyone though, because if an employee being gone for 2 days is a problem for him, an employee being gone forever will be a bigger problem. – Brilliand Jul 2 at 22:59
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    I'm struggling to understand this answer. It says that the manger "can't dictate..." but isn't that provably false? The manager already has dictated that employees cannot ride bicycles. Beyond that, in much (most?) of the US, method of commute is not a protected class. Can't OP be legally fired for cycling to work? In any case, I think it would greatly improve this answer if you could elaborate on what you mean when you say the manager "can't". I'd be very interested to know what prevents a manager from doing so. – Rob P. Jul 3 at 5:48
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Have you actually met with your boss or sent him an email regarding this subject?

Boss, Last week you mentioned workers are no longer allowed to commute to work by bicycle. I want clarification of this rule as this is my primary mode of transportation. Thank you.

As far as I can tell though, there isn't anyway he can tell you what sort of activities you engage in. Now while that isn't lawful, that doesn't stop your boss from firing you if you are a at-will worker. So you'll want clarification from him for sure and make sure he knows it is your only method of transportation.

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    I think this is good because it creates a 'paper trail' to can be submitted to HR or someone else in case of an inquiry. – CramerTV Jul 3 at 1:26
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Your boss does not get to make decisions for you outside the office. He doesn't choose your dinner, shampoo, entertainment, hobbies. So why would he get to decide your mode of transport.

He may be able to keep you from parking your bike on company property. So perhaps lock you bike up off campus but in a safe and secure manor.

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    Or, if you have a manor next to your office anyway, consider living there for a while. Makes the commute much easier ;) – Ruther Rendommeleigh Jul 3 at 6:27
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Unless you're working with an employment contract that allows your employer to dictate your travel behaviors (rare, but not inherently illegal or unheard of) it's quite obviously none of their business how you arrive at work.

Given you said this,

If you're going to suggest finding another job, that's a great idea, but without also suggesting what to do in the meantime it's unhelpful.

it seems that you're willing (or already planning) to switch employers because you find your boss unreasonable. In that situation, I generally adopt an approach of "do what makes sense to me, and is defensible." In your situation, this would mean,

  • be able to show that I'm arriving at work by the agreed-upon time, regardless of my commute method
  • be able to show that bike commuting doesn't impact your work performance or ability to comply with reasonable requirements (i.e. you're not arriving sweaty and taking work time to change clothes. And, you're able to wear required dress code, or whatever)
  • know company policy and law about sick leave (effectively, your employer can't take action based on you being sick or injured)
  • arm yourself with information on the benefits of bike commuting, even if you expect your boss won't be receptive.

And then, keep biking to work and hope for the best when an inevitable conflict happens. If you search workplace.SE for the word unreasonable you'll get plenty of suggestions.

  • I would sure emphasize the "know company policy" point. I wouldn't put it past boss to try to deny benefits if you are injured while cycling. – DaveG Jul 2 at 14:54
  • Doing so in any significant way would lead to a easy win in court. Company sick time (and possible state sick time laws) and disability laws aside, FMLA protects your job while allowing for up to 12 weeks off. FMLA cases are generally the easiest employment cases for the employee to win. – dwizum Jul 2 at 14:58
  • I know you said it was 'obvious', but I think it would improve the answer if you could explain more about why it is obvious that a company/manager has no business in what you do after hours. Are you saying that an employee who does the four things you've listed cannot be fired or punished for commuting with a bicycle, because it isn't the business of the company how employees get to work? – Rob P. Jul 3 at 5:55
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Should I just keep biking in and see what he does about it, or start spending $20/day on Ubers to commute?

Continue to use your preferred mode of transportation to go to work and don't worry about your manager's foolish request. If your manager attempts to discipline you in any way, I would escalate to HR or anyone higher up in the chain of your company. In the meantime you should brush up your resume and look for a new company to work for.

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    Agreed the boss is wrong, but do we know it's illegal? It seems like the law wouldn't support the bosses' assertion but may not really protect against it. Employers can discriminate, for example, on virtually anything except for specific stated characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, pregnancy, marital status, etc. Mode of transportation isn't a protected class. – John Spiegel Jul 2 at 14:56
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    @JohnSpiegel An employer can require their employees to use a company provided form of transportation, but this would be something written into their contracts which the OP has not indicated is the case so I have edited the answer removing the illegal aspect as it is unclear. – sf02 Jul 2 at 15:07
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    Well, the company provided form of transportation is normally a totally reasonable thing. Like taking the companies shuttle helicopter to the offshore drilling rig instead of arriving at random intervals with your own private helicopter or kayaking in on Fridays. I have never heard of an employer requiring a type of transportation for a normal, reachable-by-individual-means jobsite. – nvoigt Jul 2 at 16:07
  • @nvoigt There are jobs where you might be told to take a company car home and drive it directly to a jobsite in the morning (saving the time of driving a personal car to work only to exchange it for a company car which you have to drive in the opposite direction). And in those situations, it might be reasonable to make driving the company car a job requirement (with local labor law determining whether that's paid or unpaid time). But that's clearly not what's happening here. – Zach Lipton Jul 3 at 0:50
  • @JohnSpiegel It's probably not illegal for him to tell you that he forbids you from bicycling to work, but he can't actually do it. One party to a contract cannot unilaterally modify the contract without the other party's agreement to any material change. – David Schwartz Jul 3 at 1:41
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If you don't have an alternative ($20 per day is too much, getting a car is not an option, no co-workers can drive you to work etc.), just keep biking to work. It's better than not showing up.

You can't convince someone who won't listen to reason that the rules they set are stupid. Trying to do so will only make it more obvious that you're not going to comply.

You can't make him pay for your commute, let you work from home, etc. because he's not supposed to, and if he agrees to accommodate you, he'll soon have to do that for everyone, not just people who used to bicycle.

He may fire you when he eventually finds out that you disobeyed his orders (he most likely won't fire you for cause, so you're unlikely to get anything in court). I doubt it will happen instantly though: if losing someone for 2 days is a problem, losing someone for 2-6 months (the time it will take to hire and train your replacement) is a couple orders of magnitude worse.

The thing is, a job which is not reachable by suitable transportation is simply not sustainable. Your boss just made your current job unsustainable for you by banning bicycles.

1

In any employer-employee relation, there are benefits and disadvantages for employer and employee. For the employee what counts is salary, cost involved (for example for transport), being away from home, enjoying or hating the work or being with your colleagues and managers.

If you find a position that benefits you more, you switch jobs (although switching has disadvantages by itself).

Your boss just changed the equation. He wants to inflict cost of $20 per day on you. Lots of jobs that did not look better than your current job now do. There are bosses that are so full of themselves that they don’t get a simple fact like that. So first this is something you have to explain to your boss.

But I’m not quite sure about you using “boss” in some places and “manager” in other places. If he is just a manager, then the easiest is to go to HR or payroll and ask them how to go about getting your cost for Uber refunded. Most likely they will ask why you think you should get that cost refunded when you could just cycle to work, and then you say what your manager demands, and that is likely when something hits the fan.

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Thinking out loud here.

What someone was driving to work and was in an accident? Ban driving to work?

What if your Uber driver was in an accident, you were injured and missed work? Ban Uber?

What if you lived close enough to work to walk, twisted an ankle and missed work? Ban walking?

Is he purchasing bubble-wrap?

What about company apartments within walking distance?


His demand is silly. That's in the hypothetical 'what-ifs'. If (s)he can't manage the team if someone is out unexpectedly for several days then they don't have any business being a manager. S**t happens.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    What action do you suggest the OP take? – Jay Jul 2 at 15:42
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    I think it's pretty clear that the demand is silly. The question is, what should the OP do? – espindolaa Jul 2 at 15:56
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Is there any provision about commuting in your contract that allows him to have a say in this matter?

Because there isn't in the law. And his actions have to be based on something. The USA is a country following the rule of law, meaning he can't just make things up. He needs to have some kind of legal foundation for his request, otherwise it is just that: A random stranger asking for something, and you are absolutely free to honour his request or refuse it or even ignore it without saying a word. Without a clause in your contract, he is in the same legal situation as the guy at the subway entrance asking for pocket change.

It is very, very unlikely that there is a clause in your contract regulating how you are allowed to commute or who has a say about it, but we can't be entirely sure because you can sign any contract you want, so go check.

If there isn't, then see above. The question now becomes: How do I politely tell my boss that this isn't any of his business and his power ends at the work time and company grounds borders?

A friendly but strong answer would be something along the lines of:

"Boss, I cannot find the clause in my contract that regulates commute methods. Since my commute is not paid company time, but unpaid private time, I believe I am free to choose whatever method suits my personal needs most. Please let me know which contractual obligation I seem to be missing."

While this shows clearly that you know your rights, and IMHO you need to show bullies that you are standing on stronger ground than I am to avoid a confrontation, it might seem too strong for you. But given what you write about your manager, I don't think he'll take anything less than that. On the contrary, I think you should be ready to take this up one level to his boss or to HR, depending on his answer.

(also, the health benefits of biking outweigh the dangers, which are probably smaller than driving though that depends on where you ride so I wouldn't try an argument from facts unless you have all the facts, specifically for your region and route)

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    You've mentioned a lot of legal aspects in your answer. As someone who isn't well versed in the law, I think it would really help if you could elaborate on what legal protections exist that would prevent my boss from simply firing me if I were to follow your advice? My 'contract' doesn't specify my mode of transportation, but it does explicitly state that either party can terminate employment at any time, for any reason, not protected by law. Generally speaking, only in the most extreme cases do employees fear legal consequences from disobeying company policy. We just get fired if we do. – Rob P. Jul 3 at 6:03
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    Downvoted for serious misunderstanding: in most parts of the USA, at-will employment is the norm, meaning that an employer can indeed fire him for any reason they like, except for a few reasons that are specifically forbidden by law (e.g. race). OP is free to ignore the boss's request, but the boss is free to fire him for it. – Geoffrey Brent Jul 3 at 6:06
  • @GeoffreyBrent sure he can fire him. But he can't force him to not commute by bike. (not to mention it isn't clear if the manager in question has the authority to fire, typically this has to go through HR at the very least.) – Tom Jul 3 at 8:45
  • @RobP. - nothing stops your boss from firing you. He can fire you for biking to work, or he can fire you for wearing blue trousers or because he doesn't like your haircut. IANAL - though I have legal training in employee law, I do not hold the title of lawyer. So you'll have to ask a lawyer knowledgable in your local laws about possibility of redress if you should be fired for something that is clearly outside the company domain. But think this through: If the boss can control your unpaid private time, what's next? He tells you who to marry and which appartment to rent? – Tom Jul 3 at 8:48
  • @Tom In a workplace context, "do this or get fired" is about as forceful as it gets short of actual physical altercation. Telling the OP "they can't force you to do this" without clarifying that they can fire them for it is dangerously misleading, at best. – Geoffrey Brent Jul 5 at 1:27
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Send out an email saying that your boss is no longer allowed to specify how employees do or don't get to work. Point out that if he's allowed to unilaterally change the terms of your employment and you have to accept it, then you too are allowed to unilaterally change the terms of your employment and he has to accept it.

The way to stop people from being unreasonable and irrational is not to try to reason with them, that never works. It's to punish them each time they are unreasonable or irrational so that they don't get what they want. Often the best way to do this is to respond precisely in kind. If you mirror the behavior of your boss, he'll get bad results just like you do and, eventually, he'll switch to a tactic that works with you because he wants to get what he wants.

However he responds to your email, mirror it. Make sure there is no response he can make to your conduct that doesn't equally well apply to his. Just make sure to always be polite even if he isn't. Throughout, be the better person.

I can assure you from experience, this technique absolutely does work. However, you may not be able to apply it. It may help, if possible, to have a friend role play your boss to make sure you have it down. Ideally, brief someone on exactly the type of person your boss is and have them take the boss' role in a practice encounter.

One very important thing, if he ever uses an outright attack, respond exclusively to that attack. You can find lots of articles on how to do this. This one is the first one I happened to find.

  • @Niko1978 First, it's not insubordination. Insubordination is refusing to obey an order or command issued by an authority when that order or command is within the scope of their authority. Second, your boss doesn't need an excuse to fire you. He either prefers you to work for him or prefers you not to work for him. If the former, he won't fire you. If the latter, he will. In any event, mirroring doesn't usually produce a hostile response. (Often, perversely, it creates respect.) – David Schwartz Jul 3 at 5:32

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