Can I be fired for being late due to bad weather?

Winter is coming, and with it bad roads in Michigan.  Every year we get several calls from people who were late to work because of bad road conditions or weather-related traffic, and were fired or disciplined for it.  Is it legal in Michigan for an employer to discipline or even fire an employee for being late to work due to circumstances outside of the employee’s control, such as the weather?

“Wrongful termination” is not a cause of action in and of itself in Michigan.  Michigan is an at-will state, which means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all, as long as it is not an illegal reason.  A firing is “wrongful termination” if the firing is done for an illegal reason.  For example, firing someone because of race, sex, or religion would be “wrongful termination” and would be an illegal firing in Michigan.  It is also illegal to fire someone for engaging in certain acts, called “protected activity,” such as complaining about no getting overtime, objecting to sexual harassment, or reporting illegal actions to a government agency.  These would be examples of “retaliation” or “retaliatory discharge,” which is another form of illegal wrongful termination.

There is no Michigan law that specifically requires an employer to accommodate lateness or absence due to weather or road conditions.  An employer, in most circumstances, can fire or discipline an employee who shows up to work late due to snow, traffic, ice, or even a car accident.  However, there are certain circumstances where such a firing would be considered “wrongful termination” for some other reason.

The most common situation where firing someone for tardiness would be considered “wrongful termination” is if the employee is treated differently from other employees in the same situation based on a protected status.  For example, if an employer allows men to be 15-20 minutes late due to bad weather without any sort of discipline, but women who are 15-20 minutes late for the same reason get in trouble; that could be considered discrimination based on sex.  Similarly, if two employees are late for the same reason by about the same amount of time and are otherwise in a similar situation, but one employee recently complained about race discrimination and the other did not, it would be considered retaliation and “wrongful discharge” to fire the employee who complained and not the other one.   Basically, an employer generally does not have to allow employees to show up late due to weather, but is not allowed to use bad weather as an excuse, or “pretext,” for firing someone for some other, illegal reason.

If you were fired for what you believe may be an illegal reason, call Gold Star Law today.