Recently we were hit with a freezing “polar vortex” that shut down campus for an entire week. While some enjoyed the “early spring break,” not everyone got the week off.
Even in harsh weather, many workers are still called into work. During the frigid storm we suffered earlier this month, we saw poor road conditions, heavy snowfall and freezing cold temperatures that could cause frostbite in minutes. Winter in Michigan is notoriously terrible and inevitable, but this was no ordinary storm, as Governor Gretchen Whtimer declared a state of emergency and urged residents to turn their thermostat down to 65 degrees to conserve heat in case of a gas shortage. Even so, many workers prevailed through this weather to punch in to their usual jobs, putting themselves and others at risk on the road.
We have businesses that provide essential services, such as gas stations and grocery stores, that should stay open (albeit for limited hours) during emergencies. But to stay safe, most people should skip work (or work from home) to stay off the roads.
But many workers report to work anyway without regards to their safety, fearing the possibility of being fired or going without pay. There are plenty of businesses who take advantage of these people who would rather bare the awful weather than lose their job.
The risk of severe injury or death is too great for a business to remain open and require their employees to report in. Public health should take precedence over company profits, as terrible road conditions slow the response time for fire and rescue teams in the event of accidents and cold related injuries.
At the very least, transportation, childcare and other benefits should be provided to employees who have to come in. Carpooling would drastically reduce the amount of accidents with less cars on the road and employees should, of course, be paid even if they can’t come to work, as poor weather conditions cannot be attributed to them.
It’s not completely clear if workers have the right to refuse to come into work because of weather conditions. Typically, it’s up to the employer, but they could force the employee to decide if not coming in is worth being fired. Most people would choose their job, even if they’re not completely aware of the road conditions – until it’s too late. It’s a dangerous mentality, as no one should have to choose between their job and their health.
Overall, we should not give discretion to businesses to decide if weather is severe enough for employees to come in to work. We should appeal to lawmakers to put regulations into place in favor of workers who feel it is genuinely unsafe to commute to work. Additionally, we as consumers should choose to only support companies that treat their workers fairly, which includes not forcing them to work in unsafe conditions.