Can you be fired for not going to work in hazardous weather?

After the recent tornadoes that devastated towns throughout multiple states, we all heard allegations that some employers threatened workers with termination if they left work as conditions worsened. So far, at least one lawsuit has been filed. Others are likely to follow.

As the forces of nature wreak increasing havoc throughout the country – from wildfires and flooding here in California to snowstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes in other parts of the country – many employees aren’t sure if they have the option not to go into work when conditions are hazardous.

We know that smoke from a wildfire can blind drivers – not to mention cause serious breathing problems. Heavy rain after months of drought can cause roads and bridges to be washed out or simply be impossible to navigate – at least safely. An earthquake can destroy part of a freeway in seconds.

While many people are able to do their job (or at least a portion of it) at home, that’s simply not an option for people who work in grocery stores, factories, hospitals and a multitude of other sectors. So, if you can’t work from home and you don’t feel safe coming in (or maybe have no way of getting to work if the roads are closed or public transportation isn’t running), can your boss still require you to come in?

As an at-will employee, you could risk being fired

Legally, an employer in an at-will employment state like California has the right to fire employers who can’t make it to work in severe weather conditions. Of course, it’s not a very smart – or compassionate – thing to do.

You help your chances of avoiding that fate by explaining why trying to get to work would be dangerous. Hopefully, your employer doesn’t want to risk having an employee injured or killed trying to get to work simply because they were afraid of losing their job.

Chances are, you’re not the only one facing those hazardous conditions. If more than one person doesn’t make it in, but you’re the only one disciplined or fired, there’s likely something else behind it. If you were terminated for not coming to work in dangerous conditions when others weren’t and you believe that discrimination might have played a role, it may be in your best interests to seek legal advice.