In Career, Discussions

Is it fair to force employees to go to work even if they are unable to?

With the ice storm that happened in December 2013, companies were still telling / forcing people to come in to work.

(Note: What I am about to highlight is at the end of it all, a really a minor, trivial point in the grand scheme of working but it is a simple example of things I think employees don’t pay attention to when they’re working for a company.)

Frankly, if you could make it in to work via public transportation, you weren’t out of electricity and are otherwise fine except for having to deal with icy roads and a sidewalk, by all means GO IN TO WORK.

If however you are living on a street that has numerous trees that have fallen and taken down live (!!) power lines with them, and you are unable to make it in to work because the public transportation system is shut down in your area, DO NOT GO IN TO WORK.

  1. Live power lines = Not safe
  2. Icy roads = Not safe
  3. Public transportation not running = What do they want you to do? Take a cab?

Hearing this tweet about how The Asian Pear was unsure about having to even make it in to work, and my advice was pretty succinct:

Don’t go in if you legitimately can’t make it.

She writes back saying:

“I’m not a consultant. I have to show up or take a vacation day or a sick day (unless I am dead.)”

Okay maybe there’s a point there, but to me, it has nothing to do with my being a consultant.

I think this is the perfect example to hopefully help people think about who they are working for and what it means for them.


It irks me to read that companies think it is OK treat people like this, but maybe I am just too sensitive.

You tell me.

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE AN EMPLOYEE OR A CONSULTANT IN THIS CASE

Employee or consultant, this is about the fact that “the worst ice storm in history” doesn’t happen annually.

It’s a rare and unusual event, and that has to be taken into account as well, and if you work for a place that doesn’t, you might want to think twice about staying so steadfastly loyal to them.

And no, it’s not because “I’m a freelancing consultant” that I get to choose my own hours, because frankly it’s worse for me:

If I don’t go in to work, I don’t get paid.

End of story.

As an employee you can take a sick day or a vacation day and still get paid, but I wouldn’t have done either as an employee because neither is technically true — it’s circumstances beyond your control.

(On average, I am treated worse than an employee on projects, so please don’t think my job is cushy because I get to dictate when I go in to work and not.

It is not as easy, or cut and dry as you might imagine.)

Anyway, even with a loss of a payday (about $1000 / day) in mind, I wouldn’t have gone in to work considering the circumstances of what we experienced.

Photograph-Winter-Cold-Ice-Storm-2013-Trees-Coating-Weather

I guess I don’t really get this kind of loyalty to an organization where you’d seriously think about trying to make it in after something akin to a natural disaster.

Sure, she may have done the ethically responsible, employee thing to take a vacation day instead of a sick day instead of just not showing up, but I highly doubt anyone would have shown up to work alongside her.

WHAT IF THERE WEREN’T ANY VACATION DAYS TO USE?

But what if she had no vacation days? What could she have done? Taken a fake sick day? Taken a cab in?

It sounds ridiculous to me that a company would be OK with someone lying but not if it’s a legitimate reason that you can’t make it in.

WHO WOULD SHOW UP ANYWAY?

Apparently some people went in after all, but from my experience, many employees would just skive off.

I know this from having been in the middle of numerous snow storm / snow days while on contract, and while I could safely make it in (it wasn’t an ice storm, it was just snow), there were plenty of times where I made it into an office COMPLETELY EMPTY of employees, as in no one was there except the consultants who could make it in and didn’t want to lose their payday.

NO ONE WAS THERE.

There was however, this time I worked at one particular project, the managers were considerate enough to email out the night before:

Do not try and make it in tomorrow, the roads are far too snowy and icy, and we’d rather you all be safe at home with your family rather than trying to make it in.

Please stay at home and work from home if you can.

That was fair of them to say, and it’s saying that, that made me increase my dedication, respect and loyalty to them and the project.

They basically kiboshed a work day so that no one would feel obligated to come in, employee or not.

WOULD YOUR JOB BE WORTH YOUR LIFE?

People reading this may think: Gee it’s just a little ice and snow, calm down..!

But things happen, even if you think I’m exaggerating, it’s not really worth the increased risk considering what just happened to the city, coated in ice.

  • Sheets of ice fall and can split your head open.
  • Live wires can electrocute you (and they’re invisible as they’re buried underground).
  • You can slip on those icy roads / sidewalks and get a concussion.
  • Cars skid out of control all the time even while driving on normal roads & can hit you
  • Buses can also skid out of control while turning and topple over
  • Many stores were closed as people prudently stayed in & employers closed for the day (even before Christmas)
  • The city and police issued a warning and said: DO NOT go out if you do not have to!

..etc

Sure it is all stuff that could happen on a regular wintry day, but it is compounded by so much more because of the ice storm.

So in the instance of a workplace telling you that you have to be in, no matter what without taking into account how unusually risky it might be for you to go out….

Why the hell would you care for an organization that clearly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you by emailing that it is mandatory you show up to work the next day, after having gone through what the city went through?

Just to keep your job?

It doesn’t sound like it’s worth it to me.

I’d rather tell them to take that job and put it where the sun don’t shine (after finding a new one of course).

Of course this policy of asking you to come in after an ice storm is not as bad as actually dying at your desk from a heart attack, or being overworked to death like the many horrific stories that crop up in Asia (China in particular), but even if you made it in to work and out safely this one time, accidents beyond your control happen and you could be that one unlucky person who ends up getting hurt, while your workplace issues a PR statement backpedaling quickly and saying:

“Oh.. she should have said something to us.

She shouldn’t have come in if it was that dangerous for her!

What a tragedy.”

Too little too late, right?

Guess I’m really not fit to be an employee if that’s the case because I’d want to be treated fairly like a human being.

Is that too much to ask for?


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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26 Comments

  1. One More Knight

    My employer relies on loyalty, or staff just feeling guilty about things that won’t get done if they don’t come in.

    My boss once said “if people don’t live near the office it’s their problem” and I was told off for taking the initiative to get some of them working from home on essential tasks, even though this cost the company nothing.

    Meanwhile our IT won’t lift a finger to figure out how one task, which only takes 5 minutes to carry out, can be completed remotely. The task is the final step in completing a payment run and considered critical, yet no one gives a sh*t about resilience as long as staff continue to suck it up in bad weather.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @One More Knight: Your workplace sounds horrible. Talk about lack of employee loyalty / retention policies in place.

      Reply
  2. Happy Life And More

    It took a while to restore power in the building, so they had to shut down operations. Yayyy for an extra day off! I’d however never risk my life to go to work for the sake of going to work. Employers needs to put employees safety first.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Happy Life And More: But did your employer force you to go in?

      Reply
  3. Tracy

    It really depends on the job. Can you imagine a Nurse, Doctor, or Policeman not coming in because of the snowstorm? They’re probably expected EVEN MORE so because of all the accidents that are happening around the city. What would the hospitals do if all the staff took a sick day because of the snow storm?

    I moonlight as a professional musician, and if something like this happens, the boss makes a call and decides whether we all go to the gig, or none of us goes. If one or two musicians decides not to go, the rest of the band can’t play. If he decides we need to do the gig, then by golly we will ride penguins if we have to.

    Now if it was another job whereas one day off doesn’t really impact productivity (project-based office jobs) and the boss is just being a tightwad, then yes, absolutely don’t go in.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Tracy: True! I did not consider the essential jobs. For me, it was more professional (majority of folks) who work in offices.

      And really, if you can work from home, what’s the big deal of one day?

      Reply
  4. Tania

    First of all, there is a difference between a company forcing someone to go to work in perilous conditions and refusing to provide a paid leave day in the event of a disaster. She clearly indicates they’re aren’t forcing her to go in but to rather use a leave day in order to get paid. In my 2+ decades of work, I have NEVER worked for a company that expected us to go in during tsunami/hurricane evacuations, 9-11, an earthquake or a blackout. Every employee handbook I’ve ever written or read tells you not to go in & assume office closure in certain situations like disasters. I agree with what you said, my goodness use your common sense. If it’s not safe, don’t go. It’s not a debate in my mind. If an employer expects you risk your safety to sit in a cubicle, change jobs.

    In most of my “disaster” situations, we were already at work and had to send everyone home so salaried workers did get their full days worth of pay because they did work. Now if the situation were extended beyond a day or two, companies do have business interruption insurance to cover essential services including certain employees (maybe not all if you’re not running to full capacity so some could get laid off).

    If you do have to take unpaid leave in the US, file for unemployment. You don’t have to be terminated to receive unemployment benefits, there are benefits for the still employed for “reduced hours” and “no work offered”. After 9-11 most of the employees at the company worked for were receiving partial unemployment because we had to cut all their hours because the tourists stopped coming (luxury retail). You can also apply and possibly receive benefits if you had to quit because changed circumstances necessitated it (there are rules on what qualifies in this case but I would think not being able to go to work because of downed power lines would count).

    I don’t get paid if I don’t work either and don’t use a paid leave day. Uh, yeah, duh. I don’t work for free and they shouldn’t have to pay me for not working either. If it is an ongoing issue, save up a few days of leave just for situations like this or see if you can work out with your boss a way to work from home when needed. If you feel your employer is treating you in an inhuman way and expects you to come in during a hurricane, look for another job. Sorry, but I’m kind of a put up or shut up chick. I also agree being a consultant is not easier. You don’t get paid leave benefits at all! Or employer paid insurance, retirement, an IT department to help you with your computer, should I go on?

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Tania: I think what you’re describing is very American in style, and I found that attitude to be the same in the U.S. when I worked.

      As a freelancer, if I don’t get in, I don’t get paid. But if you are in unusual circumstances — ice storm worst in 170 years, flood, .. and employers still expect you to come in, I find it rather ridiculous.

      In Canada if she had no paid leave available or vacation days, what would she have done? I am not sure we have the same laws here for being able to collect unemployment for a single day.

      Reply
      1. Tania

        @save. spend. splurge.: I’ve never worked for an employer that expected us to come in extreme & dangerous weather conditions. In Hawaii that would primarily be during a hurricane or tsunami warning. Of course we don’t have routine bad winter weather like they do on the mainland. Quite the opposite, they will typically advise us not to in a policy in the employee handbook. I have worked for national companies with offices across the US and right there in the handbook it stated to not come in if travel wasn’t safe. I wouldn’t get docked as I’m salaried but yes an hourly employee probably wouldn’t get paid unless they used a leave benefit day.

        Reply
        1. Tania

          @Tania: I would add that my experience doesn’t mean they’re aren’t horrible employers out there that expect employees to come in during dangerous conditions, I’m sure there are. So, my response would be to look for another job. Again, common sense. If an employer’s practices are completely unreasonable, find one who isn’t. It may not be easy, it may take awhile but try if it’s really that bad.

          I had an employer that did treat employees horribly. Within three months I started searching for another job (after trying to work things out of course). I was prepared for it to take a long time as Maui doesn’t have a good job market for someone with my background but I found something three months later. I did what I had to.

          Reply
    2. save. spend. splurge.

      @Tania: @Tania: Actually, Pauline brought up a point about France not paying for sick days either (I know in Canada for teachers this is true. You don’t work for ANY reason, you don’t get paid by the board, but your union might give you half pay or something).

      Anyway, what I know is that in companies some of them DO pay for sick days. They don’t make it in because they’re sick, but they still get paid.

      Is that not the same thing? Sick = Unable to make it in as well.

      So why would they get money for sick leave but not for an unusual circumstance?

      Reply
      1. Tania

        @save. spend. splurge.: Companies are not required to offer paid sick days by law in most states but some are required via union contract. But most companies, for full time employees, will offer this benefit for competitive reasons. I’ve had at least a week of paid sick leave allowance at almost each one of my jobs the past twenty years. Most also don’t require a doctor’s note for just one day of leave so you could use a sick day for other reasons if your employer/supervisor doesn’t require backup but merely a call in. Personally as a manager, I don’t grill employees on sick days unless there is a pattern of abuse. Many employers now have a PTO policy which is paid time off with no distinction between vacation or sick, just one bucket of paid leave, so with those policies you could definitely also use it paid time off for other reasons.

        Not all leave is paid in the US for full time employees (i.e. Family Medical Leave Act just requires your job be held, no compensation required) but most full time employees have vacation, sick and other paid leave benefits like jury duty, election day, funeral leave, etc. Now, if you’re part time, that’s a whole other thing, you may not receive any of those benefits.

        Reply
  5. Debbie M

    I live in a place that has freezing rain once every year or so. My employer is a large university in the middle of the city, so it might be okay on campus, but not where some of the staff live if they live in a suburb or beyond. They generally close down the entire campus for an ice storm (and usually for snow also), so no one is to come in. The only problem we had is that sometimes they wouldn’t make the announcement until after some staff would have had to leave to get to work on time. But after one particularly egregious example of this, they set up a new system and it works better–it’s always on the website a couple of hours before the first class. We record the time off in a special category, so it doesn’t cost us sick leave or annual leave.

    Obviously there are some jobs (emergency room worker, ambulance driver, snow plower) where you might really need the employees regardless. But for most jobs, I agree with you.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Debbie M: This is what I was thinking — record it as a special category. This is a very unusual case of having the worst ice storm in 170 years. It’s ONE day.

      Most people spend their entire lives at work but don’t get anything done. For me, it’s really all a wash in the end if your job is not critical.

      Reply
  6. Kathy

    This post really hits home with me. I worked for a doctor’s office who offered weight loss classes in the evening. The dietitians who taught the class would call the patients and insist they come to class even it the weather was horrible and the police were asking people to stay home. So if even one person showed up, the whole staff had to stay, which meant traveling home at night on bad roads while the weather was still bad as well. I felt that to be very inconsiderate and foolish.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Kathy: Same with spas. They don’t take into consideration that you can’t make it in if it’s really in unusual circumstances. If it’s not life or death, I say stay home.

      Reply
  7. Pauline

    There was a snow storm once and I was the only one walking distance from the office so really annoyed to have to face the cold while everyone had called and blamed the traffic not to come in. I guess it depends on the kind of job, your office job can be done tomorrow, or remotely most of the time. If you need to staff a shop or a restaurant and no one can come in, the closest person should try to get in.
    We had a worker unable to come because he got a rash while working on our land. Of course he didn’t have insurance so we paid his sick days. In France you usually don’t get paid for the first 2-3 sick days unless your company has a special agreement so calling in sick means you lose money anyway.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Pauline: I guess you were too honest to lie 🙂

      Reply
  8. Paige

    I went to work! I had to get a ride from my parents, but we went slow and it wasn’t all that bad.

    If I worked for a company where closing the office was an option, I think that would be a different story, but I work somewhere that was going to be open, so some people had to be there. And it was nice to be somewhere with power that people could come to during the day to stay warm.

    As an aside, my own power was out and I was happy to be at work because instead of being cold at home, I was warm at work with power and got to charge everything. I stayed late into the evening because I had stuff I wanted to get done on the computer, and left only when the power was back on at home.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Paige: Ah yes..! If your workplace had power it would be a different story if you didn’t. I’d go in and camp there if I could.

      Reply
  9. jane savers @ solving the money puzzle

    My employer has a very forward thinking weather policy. If it isn’t safe to drive then don’t come in. People who live really close will be called to cover but they can refuse without penalty. You can use a sick day or take an unpaid day but there is no pressure to report.

    We are in health care and if we don’t want to come in then the clients don’t show up either so having less staff on a bad day is never an inconvenience.

    Life happens and sometimes you need time off without notice. Taking a day off because your cat died should not be punished and it is part of the reason people who work at my work never leave once they get hired.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @jane savers @ solving the money puzzle: I think consideration of employers in what I considered to be an UNUSUAL circumstance (worst ice storm in 170 years) goes a long way.

      I don’t forget these things easily, and while I understand the perspective of making money, loss productivity, and HR policies, there are times when you have to listen and ask yourself if what you’re saying is really the right thing to do, “rational” or not.

      Reply
  10. Lila

    It’s irresponsible of companies to ask employees to come in during bad weather. That is not very safe. I live in the mid-west and we get a lot of snow during the winter.

    I work in customer service, that’s not a very glam job and you’re low on the totem pole in the corporate world yet all my managers I’ve worked for understood when I couldn’t come in due to the weather.

    There have been times where I called in because the weather was too horrible to drive in and luckily I’ve worked at companies where management has understood that.

    One time a company I worked for sent all of us home at 3:30 pm because we were getting really bad snow and they wanted us to get home safely. I’m sorry but no job is worth risking your life for unless you’re working in the healthcare field or there is a case of national security, or something else that would warrant an emergency.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Lila: Not even that it would be a snowy day, this day in particular was after a HUGE ice storm (worse one in 170 years).

      To ask people to come in on an unusual weather event… versus just a snowy day which we’re used to, is another level of ridiculousness for me.

      It’s not life or death. Period. Why go in and risk your life for a company?

      Reply
  11. eemusings

    I live in a city that basically never has such extreme weather. A bad storm here would never do anything worse than flood the sides of the street a little – I cannot think of any instance in the past in which PT was shut down and in which I would be unable to get to work/feel unsafe in doing so.

    I genuinely think the companies I’ve worked for would be pretty understanding in this regard. It’s not like we are frontline medical/police/emergency staff. I can work from home in my current job if I need to. Knowing me, I would probably be slightly inclined to try to see about getting to work, and T would persuade me otherwise due to the practicalities. I hope that ultimately I would be able to stand up for myself in such a situation – it’s such a leap of imagination for me it’s really difficult to say.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @eemusings: Canadians are used to snow, ice and weather, but this was the worst ice storm in 170 years.

      It’s ONE day.

      It’s not something that happens yearly, and if it did, we’d be prepared for it. Power was out, people were unable to keep warm in these temperatures, etc etc.

      I found it really shameful to force people to come in or use up their paid leave for something that is a very rare, unusual circumstance and not regular winter weather.

      Reply

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