While we can’t control the weather, we typically have control over decisions regarding driving in dangerous conditions. But what happens if road conditions are poor and you need to get to work? Can you get fired for not coming to work due to dangerous roads? Let’s take a look at what makes roads dangerous and what your rights are as an employee.
Defining Dangerous Roads
There are a number of conditions that can result in dangerous roads. While the most common hazards we think of are snow and ice, rain, and fog, even poorly maintained roads can lead to potentially dangerous situations.
The majority of drivers will have to deal with a car accident at some point in their lives. While most accidents are fender benders or happen in parking lots, more serious accidents have the potential to result in catastrophic or even fatal injuries. Poor weather conditions contribute significantly to those deadly crashes.
According to a Safewise study from 2018, Arkansas is the most dangerous state for driving in the rain. The report stated that 16% of collisions on Arkansas roads were during wet conditions. Residents attribute many wet-weather accidents to inadequate vehicle maintenance, poor road conditions that inhibit water runoff, and lack of driver education and experience.
Commercial Drivers and Workers’ Right to Refuse Dangerous Work
According to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration, employers cannot fire, discipline, or discriminate against an employee who has refused to drive when they have a fear of serious injury based on conditions they feel are hazardous.
Referred to as the Workers’ Right to Refuse Dangerous Work, commercial drivers have the right to refuse to drive if all of the following conditions are met:
- The employee has asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so.
- The employee refused the work in good faith, which means that they genuinely believe an imminent danger exists.
- A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of serious injury or death.
- There isn’t enough time to get the issue corrected through regular enforcement channels.
When a motor carrier employee refuses work, they have to ask their employer to assign them to other job, tell their employer they will not perform the work until the danger has cleared, and they must remain at the worksite until ordered to leave.
Small Business Policies and Inclement Weather
When it comes to employees outside of the trucking industry, the situation regarding termination for refusing to come to work because of dangerous roads is different. Arkansas is an employment-at-will state. This means that an employer is legally allowed to terminate an employment relationship at any time and for any reason—unless a law or agreement provides otherwise. So, for example, an employer cannot fire an employee on any basis of discrimination. The employment-at-will factor, however, can come into play if an employee refuses to come to work for any reason—including potentially dangerous roads.
Employees who work for small businesses often run into problems when determining how to handle getting to work when the roads are dangerous. The issue has been muddied by the U.S. Department of Labor because it has agreed with the employer’s right to fire an employee for refusing to drive and with drivers who had legitimate weather-related concerns.
Essentially, an employer needs to agree that the weather is too bad for employees to attempt to drive. If an employee cannot find a way to make it into work, they can be terminated. In order to prevent this from happening and to ensure employees know what to do in the event the roads are hazardous, businesses should establish a policy concerning weather-related driving concerns. Once the matter is addressed in the employee handbook, both the employer and employees will have something to work off of in the event of inclement weather.
Seek Employment Law Guidance
If you’ve been terminated from a position and believe your rights as an employee were violated, you may be able to take legal action against your previous employer. Employment law is a complex area of law, so it’s best to work with an experienced law firm if you’re planning on filing a claim.
At McMath Woods, P.A., we have successfully handled a number of employment law cases, and we’re prepared to take yours on next. To get started, contact our law firm to schedule a case evaluation. We’ll review your situation, determine if legal action is available to you, and help you file a claim to hold your past employer accountable for their negligence. Contact us today to learn more about your rights.