my company is threatening to strand me out of town if I won’t work an extra day

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A reader writes:

I submitted a 2-week notice to my employer, typed out and very professional. I specified in the letter when my last day would be, and everything seemed to be okay.

Well, they asked if I could go out of town and do a job my last week of work, and we clarified that I would be leaving the day my notice was up, because I would no longer be an employee of their company, and they said that was fine. Now they are telling me that I have to stay and work a day after my notice is up, and they say that if I leave any earlier than that, they’re going to take my company truck and I’ll have to find my own way home, even though my truck is still full of my tools and such.

Do they legally have to provide me with a ride home? Or are they allowed to take all my things and leave me stranded 7 hours from home?

Wow, it seems you’ve you’ve been working for jerks.

My initial thought was to wonder what would happen if you simply drove the company truck back to your office on your last day — the last day you agreed to work, that is, not the extra one that they’re now trying to tag on. I mean, how would they stop you, or even know to stop you? (That assumes that you drove it there, which it sounds like you did.)

But you’re looking for the legal angle on this, so I turned to the always wonderful Donna Ballman, an employment attorney who wrote the excellent book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired.

… and her initial reaction was the same as mine, so ha, I am vindicated.

Here’s her response:

What’s to stop you from driving the truck back to your office on the last day and turning it in there? I assume you drive it to wherever you’re staying at night. I’m not sure how they’d stop you from doing this.

As to the laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act says you have to be paid for hours traveling on a business trip during your regular work day (but not for being a passenger outside working hours). Of course, FLSA only addresses wage/hour issues and not how you get back from travel if the company strands you.

I don’t know of any law that requires a jerk company to get you back home from a business trip. I’ve seen employees stranded as far away as the Middle East, left to get themselves home on their own dime. Some places you can look:

· Do you have a union? The collective bargaining agreement may require them to get you home.
· Do you have an employment agreement? If so, it may deal with business travel.
· Does the company have a policy about business travel? If their policy says they will get you home, I’d argue that it’s a benefit protected by ERISA and that they must comply.
· When you agreed to the trip, did they put in writing that your work would be completed at the end of the notice period and you could return home with the truck? If so, it might be a contract. You may want to talk to an employment lawyer in your state to see what rights you have.
· If they try to keep your tools, call the police. That’s theft, plain and simple. You should be able to remove your belongings from the vehicle.

On the other hand, unless you’re starting a new job the next day, why not stay one more day? I’d make sure they put in writing that you will be returned home at their expense if you agree to stay the additional time, and that you’ll get good references if you do what they want.

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Chloe

      If the tools are pretty large, (and if you’re a builder, for example, the tools could fill the truck), this isn’t going to be practical. I had some building work done on my house last year and the builders owned everything they used – including large power saws that filled the back of a flat-bed truck, so thats not the kind of thing you can easily remove at night, or take back home some other way if the employer does take the truck.

      Reply
  1. Jamie

    I could swear I’ve read this before. Either that or there is more than one person being stranded out of town with a company truck and tools.

    Either way it’s crazy – just drive back when you planned and drop off the truck.

    Reply
    1. Colette

      The only circumstance in which this makes sense is if the OP is driving up with someone else who will be staying the extra day, and who will be stranded if the OP leaves on the day he wants to leave.

      Reply
      1. T-riffic

        Thank you! I was having trouble understanding why this was a problem. I’m thinking, just drive the truck back, take your tools out, and go on your merry way. Must be something more to it that I’m just not seeing, like the situation you describe. I hope OP shows up in the comments to explain a little more.

        Reply
          1. Jazzy Red

            Or the OP could rent a truck for his tools and leave the company truck stranded.

            Either way, not good at all.

            Reply
    2. COT

      My only concern with “just leave on your last day” is that OP may leave a job unfinished. Fair or not, that may damage her reference from this job and/or reputation in the field.

      Reply
      1. Chinook

        There is also the fact that leaving a job unfinished could cause more damage than never starting the job in the first place. We work with contractors who dig holes or weld the tubes in them. If an employee left before finishing the job, this could cause great environmental and human health damage. At the same time, said employee would probably be working as part of the team and leaving a day early with the truck would mean others are stranded there.

        Reply
    3. Jazzy Red

      Yes, this does sound familiar.

      Crazier still is that apparently employers are legally allowed to send their employees out somewhere and not bring them back. If that’s the case, I volunteer to do work in Hawaii.

      Reply
          1. Jazzy Red

            As an assistant who used to make travel arrangements for the top sales people in our company, and never EVER got to go on any of these trips, I would take as many assistants as I could with me! We’d have a ball!

            Reply
  2. Joey

    I’ve heard of trucking companies firing and stranding long haul truck drivers on the road for something serious like rolling their vehicle or causing a bad accident.

    Reply
    1. Calla

      A trucking company my dad used to work for did massive layoffs around Christmas time a few years ago and left quite a few drivers stranded. (Fortunately, I think some of them with ways home paired up with others to take care of them… but geesh, it was awful.)

      Reply
  3. ChristineSW

    · If they try to keep your tools, call the police. That’s theft, plain and simple. You should be able to remove your belongings from the vehicle.

    Wouldn’t the tools be company property though?

    That said…..wow. There may be no law against stranding employees, but it sure as heck a jerky thing to do.

    Reply
    1. Sophia

      I think it would depend on who purchased the tools and what the agreement is between them (e.g. if in the employment contract it states that the company either gets the tools back or gifts it to the employee)

      Reply
    2. fposte

      The OP refers to them as “my tools,” and since a lot of times an employee does use their own personally paid for tools (like in the knives thread about chefs), I’m guessing this is one of them.

      Reply
    3. RG

      It depends. For mechanics that I know, they bring their own tools (and lockbox bench) when they get hired. So, it could very well be that the OP has his own tools, but is using a company vehicle to haul them around.

      Reply
      1. Alicia

        Exactly. My brother (a mechanic) has his lockbox at work, and should he ever quit, they are his since he purchased them out of his pocket. Some tools are provided, but others are not.

        The rule about having not too many personal effects in your workspace should you be fired out of the blue doesn’t really apply – thankfully he has a pickup truck to move it should he have to.

        Reply
      2. tcookson

        That’s how my husband’s job is. He’s a line mechanic at a factory, and all his tools and his giant, locking, rolling toolbox are his. All the mechanics where he works are required to purchase all their tools. The company gives them a list of what all they have to buy, and they can do it by payroll deduction, but once they’ve paid off the company, those tools are theirs.

        Reply
    4. ChristineSW

      Thanks everybody for the clarification. As you can probably tell, I’m not in any skilled trade industries ;) I always forget that many such workers prefer to use their own tools.

      Reply
      1. LPBB

        It’s not just that they prefer to use their own tools, which they do, but it’s also that tools are extremely expensive and employers are very reluctant to spend that kind of money.

        Reply
        1. Chloe

          Yes its not really a question of preference in many industries, its just the requirement – no tools, no job.

          Reply
          1. Jazzy Red

            …due to tools walking away on their own (because, you know, no one ever steals from their employer).

            Reply
    5. Chinook

      Not necessarily. People in the trades often own their own tools and these are not only expensive but required to work at their next job. In fact, when they declare bankruptcy, “tools of the trade” are not allowed to be confiscated for resale (but I am nto a lawyer nor do I play one on tv).

      Reply
  4. Mike C.

    Maybe I’m alone here, but the threat of being stranded at a remote work site start to look like a, “I need to cut this notice early and leave now” type of situation.

    Reply
    1. Forrest

      For real. You have another job – just “sorry, I’m unable to accommodate that. Would you like my last day to still be x or do you want me to leave earlier?”

      Reply
    2. The IT Manager

      It’s kind of too late. (At least that was my impression.) He’s on the site now and whatever problem is keeping him from just driving the work truck home at the end of his notice must exists already. My best guess to a co-worker who road with him because if not then why not just drive the truck back to the office on his last day unload the tool into his own car and leave.

      Reply
      1. Chinook

        I work in an industry where I could see this being an issue. If you are working for a contractor and not the owner of the site and you choose to leave on your last day instead of extending it as requested (which I think is in your right), please let the site supervisor know as being short a man could cause so many different issues when it comes to safety and project completion. If you became known as the guy who abandoned a job (even though you told your boss otherwise and it is not your fault), you could have future issues on different sites as being known as a flake and even be banned from working on future sites for being unreliable.

        Reply
  5. Brett

    Many fleet vehicles have AVL tracking with geofencing and remote disabling. If the vehicle is driven outside the assigned geofence for a remote job, it creates an alert that comes to the attention of the fleet manager. The fleet manager can then remotely disable the vehicle. The disabling system alerts the driver and then gradually decelerates the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop. The engine and/or brakes are then locked and the vehicle cannot be moved.

    Reply
    1. Amy

      Wow, that sounds incredibly dangerous, letting someone else who isn’t actually driving the car control it without being able to see road and traffic conditions or the positions of other drivers. I can’t believe that’s legal! (though I just googled it, and it appears that it actually is legal, I find that completely insane!)

      Reply
  6. Not So NewReader

    I like the idea that OP get it in writing. Do the Saturday- and get your tools and yourself home on their dime.
    This cannot be worse than what you have already gone through with this company. I sense that this company does these things all. the. time.
    As you are working on Saturday you can tell yourself “here is the reason I am leaving, because of this type of treatment.” Buy yourself a nice dinner at the end of the day and celebrate that it’s over.

    What a manipulative company. Wow.

    Reply
    1. J

      OP’s Company: “We told you to STAY AT THE JOB SITE! We will now be disabling your vehicle while you’re driving down the highway. Please exit the vehicle when it comes to a complete stop.”

      I could see this.

      Reply
    2. Ed

      Yeah, my younger self would say screw you and to hell with the future reference but now I would just bite the bullet and stay. Sometimes taking a stand (even when you’re 110% right) isn’t worth the hassle. I like to think in worst case scenarios and in this situation it would be immediately losing the new job and needing a reference from the current job. I was once laid off on my 5th day because the layoffs were so secret that hiring managers weren’t told so it can happen.

      Reply
      1. Jazzy Red

        Our last round of layoffs here were kept secret from the managers, too. They were very surprised when some of their people were let go. And some managers were let go, too.

        Reply
  7. Zxyn

    I don’t think the OP is there with co-workers since the company is threatening to take the truck if the OP doesn’t stay an extra day. If other employees are there, wouldn’t taking the truck screw them over too? Unless each person drove a company truck to the site individually.

    Reply
        1. Colette

          They could, but that seems both expensive and complicated when the only goal is to screw over someone who’s leaving. I just think there’s more to the story – companies can and do do ridiculous things, but usually they have a better motivation that this.

          Reply
          1. Mike C.

            Sure, to serve as an example to other employees or petty revenge. Just because you own or manage a business doesn’t mean that every decision you make is perfectly rational.

            Reply
          2. Rana

            It might also be that they don’t actually plan to do this, but are hoping that the threat that they might is enough to force the OP into working that extra day.

            Reply
      1. Natalie

        They could send someone to get it. We have maintenance guys with company vehicles, and when we had to terminate an employee we sent 2 security guards to his house to get the vehicle back.

        Reply
        1. Colette

          They could, but why pay someone else to do it, if the OP is willing to do it? Maybe they want to specifically to be vindictive towards the OP, but I’m not sure that’s in their overall best interest, because their other employees are watching.

          Reply
      2. Ruffingit

        There are a few ways to do this. You can call a car transport service to go and get it. My grandparents worked in that business for a few years. A local car transporter would pick up the car and drive it back to the company HQ. Could also be that this company has other employees on or near the work site and one of them would be tasked with getting the truck back to HQ.

        In any case, this company sounds awful and I can only be glad for the OP that she is leaving.

        Reply
  8. Elizabeth West

    What Donna Ballman said, that last bit about getting it in writing if you work the extra day. (And Judge Judy–she may be abrasive, but she’s right!)

    IANAL, but wuoldn’t it be a good idea to specify the last day in the written agreement, if the OP decides to just work the extra day? That is, “At the conclusion of X job, the company will return me home at its expense and my employment will terminate at the time the truck is returned and my belongings are removed on such and such a date,” etc. That way, they can’t try to tack extra days on once the OP has finished the job.

    Reply
  9. Aravind Ramachandran

    I have a question. How do you “get things in writing” from such a hostile employer who is clearly going to do whatever he can to cover his own tracks in case of any wrongdoing on his part?

    Reply

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