Indianapolis residents — and really, anyone in the Midwest or the Northeast — have been bombarded with weather-related news stories this winter, especially in the past week. The “polar vortex” that dipped into the northern regions of the U.S. made for record-setting cold temperatures and quite a few snowstorms.
So now you must be wondering “why am I reading about the weather on an employment law blog?” Fair question.
The weather obviously has a huge impact on a person’s ability to make it in to work, especially in the winter. Heavy snow and icy conditions can make it dangerous and literally life-threatening to drive on highways or roads. Imagine when a snow emergency is declared, and only authorized personnel are supposed to be out on the roads — if you tell your boss you can’t come in because of travel restrictions, can he or she force you to anyway?
Since Indiana is an “at will” employment state, it would be understandable to think that you would get fired for rejecting your boss’s demand. However, in a snow emergency, getting out on the roads could put the employee at severe risk for civil liability. For example, what if the employee’s car spins out in the middle of the road, thus blocking emergency responders from getting to a more severe accident up the road?
This would make that employee liable for driving when he or she shouldn’t have been out on the road. So even though in “at will” employment states an employee can be fired for pretty much anything (so long as it doesn’t violate federal law), in this case an employer likely would be in trouble if they forced someone to come in during a snow emergency, despite that employee’s objection.
Source: INCnow, “Can Your Boss Force You To Come To Work During A Snow Emergency?,” Jeff Neumeyer, Jan. 8, 2014