Employers are not Responsible for your Travel Safety – No

Personal responsibility is a fading character trait in American society. Everyone is looking for someone else to blame for everything that happens to them. It is time to exercise independence and be accountable for your own thoughts and actions. If you live in an area that experiences harsh driving conditions due to snow and ice you have to take responsibility for your safety. When you live in these types of areas you generally know what types of weather effects are safer than others to drive in. Use your experience, listen to the warnings, and exercise caution. If you are injured on your way to work, it might not be your fault, but it isn’t the responsibility of your employer, so don’t expect them to recompense you.

There is a lot that you can do to prepare yourself for facing winter driving conditions. You can have your vehicle tuned up, get good snow tires, drive an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle, and slow down. Unfortunately, even if you do all of these things, you can’t account for other drivers and unforeseen forces of nature. No matter how prepared you are if you hit ice at 50mph you could be in serious danger.  This discussion is about the hazards of winter driving, but similar hazards may exist every time you get into your car. If employers are responsible for accidents during hazardous winter weather, then they should be responsible for any accident that ever occurs when someone is on their way to work. It isn’t the snow and ice that is being questioned here; it is the liability of an employer when an employee is en route to the work location.

The question then becomes: does the employee feel obligated to risk their personal safety to fulfill their work requirement? An employer has the right to expect their employee to show up for scheduled work, but they have to realize that sometimes things get in the way of that. Employees must realize that they are responsible to their employer to meet agreed upon schedules, but sometimes things get in the way of that. Living in Vermont, the  winter is sometimes harsh. There are days when you wake up to several feet of snow and dangerous driving conditions. In those moments you need to weight your personal safety and the importance of what you need to do for work that day. Sometimes work demands that you make the trek, other days it is more reasonable to simply stay home. Hopefully, employers will be rational and excuse your absence, especially if they are traveling the same roads as you to get to work.

Unfortunately, there are less understanding bosses, or employers who are able to walk to work and seem to be oblivious to the fact that their employees don’t have that option. They expect you to be at work, especially if they are there, disregarding your circumstances entirely. They might make you feel like you need to go to work in spite of physical danger. Just because you work for someone who is inconsiderate doesn’t mean you should put your safety at risk. It all boils down to personal decisions and you need to decide what risks are appropriate for you to take.

Bringing it back to the debate over legal responsibility, while it could be argued that you wouldn’t be traveling in the conditions that led to the accident in the first place if not for work, this is not a substantial argument for making an employer legally culpable for the accident. If you were in a winter weather related accident on your way to the grocery store to buy milk and eggs would you hold the grocer accountable for the accident? You can’t buy milk or eggs anywhere else, so you had to go there. What about if you are in an accident on the way to a sporting event, do you hold the sports team accountable? Perhaps there is a freak storm on Election Day, do you sue the candidates and blame them for your accident on the way to the polling place? Okay, bad example, some people would certainly blame the opposing candidate for both the accident and the snow storm, but blame isn’t the same as legal responsibility.

People put themselves into many different situations where there is a factor of risk, and they need to make a decision and be accountable for it. No one can control everything that happens to or around them; all they can control is whether or not they are there in the first place, and how they react when it happens. Those who argue that employers are responsible for their employees who are on their way to work might do so based on the obligation an employee feels which overpowers their choice for personal safety. This is a fair argument to make, but falls under the same category as going to a sporting event; in both cases there is something you want, something that you value higher than the risk you need to take to get it. In the end, it is all about personal responsibility. If you have a good employer, they might go out of their way to help you after the accident, but they should not be held legally responsible for the accident.