I got in a car accident because my company insisted I do an event in a remote town during a blizzard

A reader writes:

I have a part-time job with a promo company sampling food or drinks at events/stores/wherever the brand being sampled pays us to go. The company is SUPER adamant that we do every shift we sign up for or find coverage on our own. My contract flat-out says that if I am in the hospital, they need to see the bill as proof.

Well, I had an event last night during the blizzard that hit my area. It was in this TINY remote town that you have to take back roads to get to. I talked to the store and my employer, but they would not cancel it.

Unsurprisingly, the event was a total bust — no one was coming into this store and I barely gave out any samples, let alone sold anything.

After the event, on my drive home, I hit a patch of black ice and went off the road into a telephone pole. I am okay – just some bumps, bruises, and scratches (my glasses broke). But I’m already feeling sore today and my car is definitely messed up.

I haven’t told my company what happened yet. They are not liable (I signed a form when I started) and that’s fine; I’m not in a lawyer-up-and-make-them-pay rage or anything. But I am really upset they had me do this event – with that location, it would have been a slow one in good weather, let alone bad.

I’m also upset because I know I will be required to find coverage for the shifts I signed up for in the upcoming weeks. I can’t do them if I don’t have a car.

How to I calmly approach all this with my manager? What do I say? How do I express how upset I am without sounding accusatory or rude? I know I’m likely to get emotional no matter what; it was a really stressful experience that I’m going to have to address again and again as I deal with the insurance claims and bills in the next few weeks.

Well, you could say something like this: “As you know, I suggested canceling last night’s event because of the weather. Sure enough, almost no one came into the store, and I gave out maybe three samples and had no sales. More importantly, though, on my way home I hit a patch of black ice and went off the road into a telephone pole. My glasses broke and I’m bruised and scratched, and my car is in the shop with some serious damage. I’d like to suggest that we change our policy about how we handle events in bad weather. The damage to my car is going to cost a lot of money, and I could have been seriously injured. I’m worried something worse could happen next time, to me or to someone else. Could we take another look at our policy on this?”

That said … you’re working for a company that tells you up-front that they won’t take your word for it if you’re in the hospital and that you’ll have to provide them with written proof. So I don’t have high hopes that they’re super reasonable or that they’ll be particularly responsive or compassionate.

It’s certainly worth a shot though.

{ 169 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Sophie Winston

    Sadly, I’m expecting the response to be, “Have you arranged coverage for your shifts?”

    It’s also possible they’ll go with, “If you can’t make any shifts for two weeks then you’re fired.”

    Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Adam V

      > It’s also possible they’ll go with, “If you can’t make any shifts for two weeks then you’re fired.”

      If I heard that they had said that to a coworker in this situation, I’d be saying to myself “if you’re worried about driving to a work event in crazy bad weather, you may as well just quit – if you get in an accident and can’t get to work for two weeks, they’re going to fire you anyway, versus if you quit and don’t go, at least you save yourself the car repair costs”.

      Reply
        1. Sheworkshardforthemoney

          This is quite relevant to me right now. I worked in a similar job just before Christmas. I was pushed hard to take on extra shifts and couldn’t because of previous inflexible commitments. I was supposed to be paid before Christmas and I wasn’t. Because of the holiday break, it was over 2 weeks before I got a response to my repeated queries about my pay. The company claimed that there was a mix-up on their end and promised my pay in the next pay cycle which is mid January. I am not going to work for them again even though I did enjoy the work.

          Reply
          1. KarenD

            This sounds thoroughly crappy. Have you taken a look at the IRS rules for independent contractors? Here’s one summary; they are actually very narrow: http://legal.uncc.edu/legal-topics/contracts/contract-checklist/independent-contractor-rules-thumb

            Your contract with them should have specified when you got paid, so they are in violation of it. And because you say you never plan to work for them again, I’d go scorched-earth and say “I think I should have qualified as an employee and I’m about to contact the IRS and ask them if I’m right.” If the IRS agrees with you, they will be in trouble — not only with the tax implications but your state probably has a law requiring timely pay of employees and penalties for violations can be quite harsh.

            I think most companies facing that possibility would find a way to cut a check ASAP.

            Reply
            1. Marisol

              If I liked the work, I would actually go somewhat scorched-earth and still go ahead and work for them if they wanted me to. Good help is hard to find and they might be willing to give out shifts even with the threat of legal action or whatever. In fact, I think a lot of employers who act like total dickheads are actually ok with playing hardball–it’s just that a lot of employees are not. I’d present whatever threat of legal action that applies, and then go ahead and say that I would be willing to work for them again but that the same standard would apply: “as long as you understand that I will take you to small claims in the future if you delay my paycheck again.” They might be ok with that.

              Also, I would go ahead and contact the labor board (I don’t think it’s the IRS who would help here) and maybe an employment attorney (attorneys often give free consults) to get the facts before proceeding. Decide on what you can do to defend your interests, and then once you have a plan fleshed out, that’s when you contact the employer and advise them of your plan. Don’t say, “if you don’t pay me, I’m going to find out what I can do about it.” No no no. You have to know what you have in your arsenal before you go to war. Then once you start negotiating, you can decide whether or not you want to deploy your weapons.

              Reply
        1. Chickaletta

          Possibly. My state has several litmus tests for determining employees vs. contractors and they’ll come after the company for lost employment taxes. When someone wants their money, they can be a great ally.

          Reply
          1. Busytrap

            Agreed. We hire companies to find people to do this stuff all the time, and they’re legit IC’s and sub IC’s. I would want to know if I was the client, though — I’d be pissed if I found out one our vendors was forcing its subs to drive in sketchy conditions, ultimately leading to an accident. Not sure if she’s being hired directly by the company, though, or by the sampling company (hope that makes sense).

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              It’s one of the factors they look at, but that on its own isn’t absolutely determinative. (Also, it sounds like the OP can pick which events/hours she wants to sign up for.)

              Reply
              1. EddieSherbert

                Yes, this is correct. I just had the bad luck to pick this event about a month in advance and then get bad weather the day of.

                Reply
      1. N.J.

        From what I know from friends who work these types of IC jobs to set up merchandise/displays or run sample booths it’s usually just hourly pay plus mileage.

        Reply
    1. Charlie

      I don’t really have more than this. Employer seems like it’s staffed by unreasonable, inconsiderate goons.

      Reply
    2. Bonky

      Yup. Me too. Poor OP: there are so many things about her employer’s behaviour in this post that made me suck air through my teeth.

      OP, perhaps this is your cue to start job-hunting? This sounds like a bigger situation than the single crisis of bad organisational decision-making leading to your accident. Best of luck, and I hope you feel better soon. Car accidents can really shake you up, even when they’re not huge ones, and this must have been awful for you.

      Reply
  2. Kat A

    Write a Glassdoor review when you leave. People should be warned about working for this company. They sound unreasonable.

    And, please, don’t endanger your life for a job, especially a part-time job. It’s not worth it!

    Reply
        1. It's the OP

          Thanks. I definitely plan on submitting a Glassdoor review.

          Luckily, this part-time job is just for “fun money”, so I am lucky enough that losing this job IS an option.

          Reply
          1. justsomeone

            Then do yourself a favor and quit! There are ways to make fun money and still work for companies that respect you and your safety!

            Reply
          2. mskyle

            Isn’t that just the most frustrating! Many years ago I got into an accident on my way to my “fun money” job, and I’m pretty sure if I did the math that ended up costing me all my “fun” earnings (I studiously avoided doing the math).

            Reply
            1. It's the OP

              Very frustrating! I’m trying to ignore the math too… Because then it’s tempting to be like “well, now I need this ‘fun’ job to make up for the money it cost me in car repairs…”

              Reply
              1. drashizu

                Ahhh, this sucks, OP! But I’m sure there are other ‘fun money’ jobs out there that don’t require risk of life, limb, and motor vehicle… This one sounds too expensive! Good luck!

                Reply
              2. Cath in Canada

                Ah yes, like the song by Metric: “Buy this car to drive to work, Drive to work to pay for this car”.

                I hope they’re responsive, OP – would love to hear an update on this one!

                Reply
              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Oh, OP, you need a different side gig. I’m positive the money you’re making doesn’t cover the out of pocket costs for if something like this happens again (__ forbid it’s even more serious or that it results in a major health problem).

                Reply
              4. MuseumChick

                Do you think you could stay just long enough to cover your car repairs? I’m so tempted to tell you (if they are totally unreasonable when you speak with them) to just quite on the spot. But I know that is generally terrible advice.

                Reply
              5. Observer

                That’s the “sunk cost” fallacy. This job is surely going to cost you more money, so you need to get out before that happens.

                What they are doing is almost certainly illegal, and they probably can’t escape liability so easily. So, I would quit and report what they are doing to the relevant authorities. Even if you don’t get anything, if you get a DOL investigation going, you might help out others who can’t afford to lose their jobs.

                Reply
                1. Observer

                  Actually, I wrote this before I saw Alison’s later comment. So, maybe you are really an IC – but I still don’t think they can escape liability so easily. And I still think that people who can act this way are likely to be mistreating their official employees as well. So, the rest of what I said stands.

              6. Rebecca in Dallas

                Ugh, I can relate! When my husband was laid off, he took a part-time job which required use of his vehicle. He ended up getting in a minor accident and yep, there went that “extra” money. He was so frustrated with himself!

                Reply
            2. MissGirl

              I got in an accident at my “fun” job. Luckily workers comp covered the two surgeries and countless PT sessions it took to get me back to working condition. My real job wasn’t too pleased.

              Reply
  3. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I might go to the media if you are fired because you wrecked your car for a job for them, or if they fire you for not getting to work. Sure, you signed the contract, but shame- it works!

    Reply
    1. 2 Cents

      +1 yeah, you signed a contract, but if the snowstorm was bad enough (like the county or state said to keep “nonessential vehicles off the road” = you), it’s going to make that company — and the brands they represent look REALLY bad for putting an employee’s life in danger for zero sales. (And even if you had 1,000 sales, it was still reckless of them.)

      Reply
      1. Golden Lioness

        OP, wouldn’t a copy of the official communication to stay off the road serve as proof? I mean, police can stop you and tell you to get off the road in cases like this.

        Reply
        1. Amazed

          Given that the company’s already nailed their colors to the mast on sending herself out there to begin with, I can only see them doubling down or going completely off the rails in response to authorities.

          Reply
    2. GraceW

      What media outlet would care? This isn’t a news story. People have accidents on icy roads all the time. That someone is required to use their own car to transport them to a job isn’t a rare requirement.

      Reply
      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

        Well, if everywhere else was closed and they were told to stay off roads, it could certainly be a story. I mean, during the manhunt for the Boston bomber, a lot of shops that still stayed open during that emergency were shamed.

        Reply
      2. Rusty Shackelford

        It might be a story if officials were telling people to stay off the roads, and the OP’s employer told her she’d be fired if she didn’t drive to her very non-essential job. But yeah, otherwise, it sucks but it’s not newsworthy.

        Reply
          1. Rusty Shackelford

            Yes, this is true, which is why I agree it’s not really a news story. But the angle that she would have been fired had she not ignored the warnings (assuming there were actually warnings) might be enough to poke someone’s interest. It’s still not a direction I would take.

            Reply
      3. The Strand

        The Consumerist, for one, would care. As would outlets that are specific to covering the “gig economy”.

        I also think the OP should post their experience on the forums at Volition.com, where a lot of contractors who do mystery shopping and other “fun money” gigs share their experiences.

        Reply
    3. Grr

      And even if it was part of the contract…it might be worth asking a lawyer. Just because it was in a contract and you signed it doesn’t make it automatically legal. (For silly example, if the contract said you owe the boss a kidney and you signed it, no, they cannot collect your kidney.)

      Reply
  4. r

    Wow, this sucks, I’m so sorry. I don’t know if the waiver means you can’t get workers comp, but you might be able to deduct the repairs as a business expense from your taxes, maybe?

    Reply
  5. animaniactoo

    If you have any documentation at all, I suggest that you send it to both OSHA and your city/state’s Office of Emergency Management.

    Because if it was a blizzard, about 100% of the time, people are asked to stay off the road unless absolutely necessary. Neither of those two agencies are likely to be happy that your company is insisting (by way of not canceling) that ANYONE drive out in that weather to hold a sample tasting. This is not a question of “oh, someone else lives only 20 minutes away” – this is a question of “We don’t want people to hit black ice and be injured and create work/delays/obstacles for emergency services personnel and other people who absolutely have to be out on the road”.

    Reply
    1. MillersSpring

      Amen. Good grief, you’re only food sampling not even the manager responsible for keeping the store open. People in your kind of job are exactly who should stay home if the state emergency authorities are asking people to stay off the roads.

      Reply
    2. Steph

      Unfortunately, OSHA probably won’t step in—the commute is not considered part of the “workday” in most locations in the US.

      I’m a safety manager. I tell people all the time to never substitute someone else’s judgement for their own. If the conditions were awful and you felt it wasn’t safe, you should never have gone. I’m sympathetic to the situation, as I’m a people-pleaser by nature, but LW should have listened to her gut, even if it meant losing this “job.”

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Agree not to let someone else’s judgement on safety substitute for one’s own – in particular because what somebody else may have more experience/skill to do is not something you have yourself and therefore it may actually be more dangerous for you than the next person.

        As far as OSHA I think it’s at least worth trying because in this case the travel is part of the setup. OEM is one people often don’t realize actually wants to hear about stuff like this because their investment is in the safety of people as a whole and not a single individual so things that endanger everyone (like people being on the road when they shouldn’t be, and businesses not supporting getting people off the road by closing/canceling events) are things they are usually willing to followup on.

        Reply
        1. whack on the side of the head

          tell me more about contacting OEM…we were not in a state of emergency but it was dangerous & there was a MASSIVE pileup on one of the major highways here.

          Reply
          1. animaniactoo

            Was there a “stay off the roads” advisory? Or was it “be cautious driving”? The latter isn’t urgent enough to contact them about. On the former though, when it’s an advisory that doesn’t rise to the level of “state of emergency” but nonetheless are “requesting people’s assistance” in complying, that’s the kind of reach-out that OEM is likely to want to do and discuss dollars and cents with the company about.

            If it was the former, Google the contact details for the office in your city/state, and ask who you can talk to about your company’s policy of being out in that kind of weather/driving condition.

            Reply
            1. whack on the side of the head

              yeah, it was a “be careful” on the way in; later they were saying stay off if you don’t need to be out. At that point I was driving home.

              Reply
  6. Stranger than fiction

    Just because she signed a release form, I don’t think that frees them from any and all responsibly does it? Her insurance will want to know if this was fornwork no?

    Reply
    1. Red Reader

      “I was on my way home from work” doesn’t generally make the company liable for the accident though.

      Reply
      1. Brett

        There’s a “benefit to the employer” exception that could apply when an employee is required to travel to a location that is not a fixed worksite. (For example, nearly all travel for a traveling salesperson is covered, even if traveling from a client site back to home.)

        Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          That’s what I was thinking, because it was an event not just a typical day going to the office.

          Reply
        2. fposte

          Does that apply if she’s an independent contractor, though? (Setting aside the question of whether she’s properly classified as such.)

          Reply
            1. Megan

              But if the OP is an independent contractor, isn’t there going to be something preventing them from telling her she MUST do X at X time?

              Reply
    2. k

      Insurance regulations vary a lot from state to state, but from my experience working in insurance in Illinois, this situation would not be considered driving for work. Driving to and from your place of employment is normal vehicle use, even if the location of your job varies. The car would typically only be considered “work use” if they were on the clock while driving, such as making deliveries, driving a client somewhere, etc.

      Reply
        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Huh. What if you stop by the grocery store on your way home? Do the three blocks between your regular route home and the grocery store apply to your personal insurance, and then back onto workplace insurance once you’re back on your usual route?

          Reply
          1. De

            Within a reasonable limit personal errands are okay and covered as your commute. What reasonable limits are is determined by judges.

            Reply
        2. Violet Fox

          Northen Europe here and last year when I hurt my ankle clearing snow off my car trying to get to work after an overnight snow storm, one of the things I had to fill out when I went to get my ankle looked at was if I hurt myself on my way to work or not.

          My work was genuinely sympathetic and lovely about everything, and I don’t know the details about the insurance and whatnot because after they got the one bit they needed from me from the doctor’s and just took care of everything else.

          Reply
    3. Elysian

      Whether that kind of release would actually protect the company depends on a lot of things, including the state the OP is in, what the industry is, what employment status the OP has (contractor vs employee, etc), the wording of the agreement itself, and a bunch of other things. Though it doesn’t sound the OP wants to the push the issue, so its unlikely it matters.

      Reply
      1. Kittymommy

        I know when I did this type of work this is why that had me listed a an independent contractor. No liability, no responsibility.

        Reply
          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Alison (and as a result, most of the commenters) intentionally defaults to female pronouns on this site, so you fit right in. :)

            Reply
        1. Anon 12

          The thing is, the insurance company should be asking. Most are chomping at the bit to find a subrogation opportunity so they ask enough questions and if they determine that it was in the course of employment they will go after the employer’s insurance directly.

          Reply
          1. Chinook

            ” Most are chomping at the bit to find a subrogation opportunity so they ask enough questions and if they determine that it was in the course of employment they will go after the employer’s insurance directly.”

            Or at least a good insurance company should. When my workplace burned down, my insurance adjuster told me that their job was to give me my money to cover my personal losses and then figure out who was going to reimburse them. I loved that company especially since other companies were of the opinion that they wouldn’t pay out for losses for the same fire until they someone figured out who was at fault (my dollars were in my account by the end of the month. Other companies took 2 years to reimburse for losses).

            Reply
            1. Bartlet for President

              The car insurance company can’t make a determination on course and scope of employment. They would have to identify the employer’s WC carrier, file a third party claim, and then duke it out – it’s unlikely they could go after the employer directly (I can think of a state or two that might let that kind of litigation go through, but I can also think of a ton that would dismiss immediately).

              However, since the OP is an independent contractor, the work comp coverage issue is moot.

              Reply
      2. Fuzzlebucket

        It depends upon if it was a true waiver or if it were merely an acknowledgement of her being an IC and there being no liability.

        A lot of what laymen think are waivers are actually acknowledgements. A WAIVER waives existing liability. If she was an IC, there was no liability to being with, so she signed and acknowledgement of that fact.

        WRT to waivers, enforceability depends a lot on state law. Easy to enforce in some states, near impossible in others.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Though the point of a lot of waivers and agreements is to discourage the forbidden behavior, so whether it’s viable in that state or would stand up in court doesn’t always come into it.

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yes, and there are several states that are leery of enforcing waivers in which the company attempts to waive its own liability for its own negligence.

          I don’t know the details of OP’s situation, but it’s possible she’s misclassified (the level of control over where she works and when she works and how she can/can’t cancel is a bit unusual for an IC).

          Reply
  7. Meow Mix

    I know you say you’re not in the mood to hire a lawyer, but I would at least take another look at the forms you signed. I had a friend who worked for a company like this during our time in graduate school, and she found a couple of inconsistencies that could have been used if she had an issue come up. That being said, I really hope it works out.

    As an aside, when my friend started that job she was told straight-up that sexual harassment was to be expected and they wouldn’t offer any support (time or money) to deal with complaints. I hope your company is a little more reasonable, but it seems like a trend with these types of companies.

    Reply
    1. Chickaletta

      Sometimes you don’t have to actually hire a lawyer, just saying the word “lawyer” can get a company/insurance company to move mountains. Several years ago I accidentally got myself tons of money when I mentioned to the insurance co I was thinking about hiring a lawyer. Made more money in that ten minute phone call than I reported on last year’s schedule c. ;)

      OP can always consult with a lawyer before deciding to hire them, they will probably give her an idea whether her case is worth fighting and give her some free advice, maybe even draft a pro bono love letter to the company on their lawyerly letterhead.

      Then again, I’ve also heard of very stubborn and stupid companies who love a fight and spend tens of thousands more on lawyers feeds than it would have cost them to pay out in the first place, and OP’s employer sounds like they fit that description.

      Reply
    2. Fuzzlebucket

      Probably would make zero difference if she’s an independent contractor. If so, the company was not liable under any circumstance.

      Issues in the waiver only matter if they would have been legally on the hook to begin with. It does not sound, from the facts, as if they would be.

      -Lawyer

      Reply
      1. Bartlet for President

        A work comp claim would (rightly) be denied almost instantly in most states. I could see it getting some traction in CA if they got a crazy enough judge, but that’s unlikely. Either way: it’s pretty clearly not within the course and scope of employment.

        Reply
    3. RVA Cat

      Jaw dropping on the “harassment to be expected” employer, that they are straight up admitting they break the law. What’s next, making the Hooters Girls handle asbestos in those little outfits?

      Reply
  8. It's the OP

    So this was a few weeks now, and there’s a bit of an update:

    I didn’t really follow Alison’s route by being super straightforward. I got one of my usual emails from my manager a couple days after the accident asking me to pick up more shifts (Christmas time is busy).

    I let her know I was in an accident leaving my last event and won’t have a car for a few weeks, so I won’t be picking up any shifts.

    She responded “okay, if anything changes let me know.”

    So I responded and mentioned I had a few shifts that would need to be covered, and asked if they could be marked available again (we all see available shifts and can select them. Once assigned, it’s your responsibility).

    She pretty much reminded me that they were my responsibility and I found coverage.

    Haven’t worked since (January is slow though) and I am very tentative to schedule any shifts more than a week in advance since I won’t know upcoming weather.

    Reply
    1. It's the OP

      On a personal positive note though, my insurance was great! I got the car back in less than two weeks, and they are covering physical therapy as it turned out I pulled a few muscles in my neck/shoulder.

      The day job is also being super-nice about me having PT twice a week, working from home when my back is not handling the desk chair well, and my manager has been helping with any lifting.

      Reply
    2. r

      This sounds like a bad job to have during the winter in a place where it snows a lot. Have any of your coworkers been there for a year and experienced this in the past? Spomething like this probably has happened before. I can’t help the little voice in the back of my head going “this is legal, but this policy makes me want this company to go bust”

      Reply
      1. It's the OP

        Unfortunately, the nature of it means I basically don’t know and never see any coworkers – the most interaction I’ve gotten is someone else having a shift right before or after me at the same store. So there isn’t anyone I know of that I’d be comfortable “interviewing” (just because I’ve only ever had casual conversations with a couple of them).

        Reply
        1. Augusta Sugarbean

          If you have contact info for your colleagues, this could be a good opportunity to get to know them. They probably aren’t happy with the disregard your own safety policies, either. It’d a great ice breaker.

          (i’ll show myself out)

          Reply
    3. kkcf

      Hey OP,

      I worked for a job like this (retail inventory) between full time real jobs. It sounds like you have a full time job – is there any way you can live without this job or find a different part time job? This company does not seem to give a damn about you OP and I think you can do better.

      Reply
    4. TootsNYC

      OP, I’m wondering:

      What would have happened if you’d said, “No, I’m not going; the weather is way too bad. It’s simply not safe.”

      Would they have fired you, or simply not paid you, or something?

      Because that’s a risk to seriously evaluate. If they would just have been mad, maybe you should have said “Sorry no, not safe.” If they would have fired you, you could contemplate whether you were willing to go with that tradeoff.

      This might be an opportunity to think about your own standards, and what you will “give in” to for this employers, and others.

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Ditto. I posted above about forwarding any documentation to the Office of Emergency Management simply because too many people feel “forced” into completing something when it’s no longer safe to do so, and that OEM would not be happy about a company setting people up for that (particularly if it’s a situation of “have to pay the rent”). But one of the life skills we’re not taught very well is when it is time to walk away and refuse to do something. Even if it is something we previously *agreed* to do.

        Reply
      2. It's the OP

        I don’t know what they would have said, but I wish I had said this anyways. Thank you for the wording (on the off chance I end up in this situation again – which I plan to go out of my way to avoid being in!).

        Reply
      3. Joseph

        Would they have fired you, or simply not paid you, or something?
        Very probably the first. Coverage jobs in America can generally be described as: “You better be here, unless you’re dead.” Weather, illness, car trouble, family emergencies? Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care, don’t care. Get coverage, tough it out, or find a new job. End of story.
        Read OP’s update: The boss reacted with “your future shifts are still your responsibility to find coverage”. If they didn’t have any mercy after OP had a major accident, they certainly wouldn’t have cut any slack beforehand.

        Reply
    5. LCL

      I’m so glad you ended up OK. Car vs pole accidents can have really horrible outcomes, up to and including multiple fatalities of the driver, passengers and first responders. And the utility company will bill for the damage to their equipment, if they can identify a responsible party.

      Reply
  9. Erica

    Especially since you also have a day job, I would be re-evaluating my relationship with the promo company. There are better part-time places to work.

    If you didn’t want to out-right quit, you could just not sign up for promo events during the winter months; and if the manager bugs you about it, you can tell them that your accident has made you determine it’s not worth the risk. But I’m willing to bet there are different promo companies who are less unreasonable out there.

    Reply
    1. It's the OP

      This is probably the route I’m going to go… I am definitely far more nervous about winter driving than I was previously.

      I think in a warmer climate/ during the nice months here, I will probably enjoy it. We just have to see if they’ll keep me on until then (if I don’t work for a few months).

      Reply
      1. Fuzzlebucket

        I’d recommend doing this, but looking for an alternative side-gig in the meantime.

        Just because they aren’t legally liable doesn’t mean they aren’t jerks.

        Something about the way they do business sends off flashing neon klaxons in my head.

        Reply
    2. Penny

      Maybe this is the perfect time to leave – you can use the accident as the reason. Tell them that your back will bother you when standing too long and the doctor said that the pain will linger for quite awhile. Weather can turn dangerous at any time, no matter the season. You seem to have a wonderful full time employer and I wouldn’t risk that relationship for the promo company. And you can’t afford to jeopardize your full time job for these people. I’d say adios now.

      Reply
  10. Dust Bunny

    Find another gig. Employers who want doctor’s bills as proof don’t give a flying flip about anything but the bottom line, even when being sticklers doesn’t make economic sense (as it didn’t here).

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      I grew up in the mountain West and the words “black ice” still give me a frisson of anxiety, even though I haven’t driven in a real winter since college and never had any wrecks. Some weather conditions are bad for driving, plain and simple. I live in a hot climate now and ice is only an issue once or twice a decade, but it floods, and thank goodness my current employer tells us to stay home if conditions are bad (it only takes a couple of inches of water to float a car, believe it or not).

      Reply
      1. Anonyby

        I live nearish the coast in CA and don’t have to deal with ice & snow on a normal basis, but growing up we would regularly road trip through the Sierra Nevadas to get to Nevada or to go skiing for family vacations. Black ice was definitely a worry! And my grandma loved to tell the story about when she and Grandpa were coming back from such a trip (before they had kids) when they were part of a huge pile-up caused by black ice! (Luckily they were fine, even if their car wasn’t and they couldn’t open the trunk to get their stuff out.)

        Reply
      2. Kyrielle

        Yeah, black ice is exactly the last kind I want to encounter. At least I know _before_ going on it that I’ve encountered the others….

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Black ice and tule fog are the banes of my existence. I know snow, etc., is also awful, but I have never had the same feeling of absolute panic as I do when I hit black ice.

        Reply
        1. drashizu

          Tule fog. Like pea soup, but thicker. I’m glad my family moved out of the Central Valley before I had to learn how to drive!

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            It’s one of those natural phenomena that is really difficult to explain until someone drives through it. There’s a reason there are 73-car crashes on Highway 99 in the fall/winter!

            Reply
  11. Caroline

    Everything this company has done so far has signaled that they do not care about the well-being of their employees, so I would doubt that it is going to change. When companies don’t care about their employees, it is extra important to be pro-active in caring about yourself. In this case, I think that means going forward you either quit outright or refuse to go out in a dangerous storm if your common sense tells you it isn’t safe. This job isn’t worth your life.

    Reply
  12. Cochrane

    I’m guessing that the OP is a fairly young person; employers will often take full advantage of the kids who won’t know any better. They know most older people will tell them to pound sand if they demand that they endanger themselves or others this way.

    I had a family member who worked in a shoe store with an onerous shrinkage policy: any missing inventory or short in the registers was grounds to fire the entire store staff on shift at the time. This isn’t some mom & pop struggling to get by, they’re backed by a multinational conglomerate that can easily absorb the typical retail shrink. When faced with missing inventory, the mostly-teenage/early 20-something staff will pay for it out of their own pockets as not to jeopardize everyone’s job. After some merch went missing that he had to pay for, he wound up quitting. Later, he found out that this wasn’t official policy, but the store manager protecting his bonus which was based on keeping costs and shrinkage low. This twerp made money and got slaps on the back by upper management for these great numbers on the backs of barely-minimum wage earning kids.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I’m guessing that the OP is a fairly young person; employers will often take full advantage of the kids who won’t know any better. They know most older people will tell them to pound sand if they demand that they endanger themselves or others this way.

      That’s because the older folks have probably been through a learning experience like this.

      I hope the OP can make it a learning experience.

      Reply
    2. Gadfly

      My sister worked somewhere that took it out of the paychecks of the cashiers if the resgister was off (and didn’t have great policies to track how/why it was off.) When she quit and reported them they ended up in a LOT of trouble for violating minimum wage laws. Lost the franchise.

      Your story is more evil since it is more indirect.

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      It’s not just younger people. It’s people of all ages can be treated this way. Some jobs are way out there in terms of what they want/ask. Middle-aged people can get trapped in jobs like this because they need to meet their financial obligations. They pick an employer because of [reasons: close to home, workable hours, they think the manager is a nice guy, whatever], then once they are in place for a bit they see what is really going on. But the problem comes in that they need the job.

      OP, you can hit these folks with something they understand. Money. Tell them that when contractors go out in these storms the company is losing money because a) almost no one buys the product and b) very few people come out in the storms anyway. It does not make sense cost wise to be doing this. Use your case as an example. Let’s say you were paid a $100 for five hours of work. Tell them how many people bought the product and then how many people sampled the product. Going with what you have written here, let’s say four people sampled the products and no one bought any. It cost the company an outrageous $25 per sample that day. This just does not make sense for the company.

      Unfortunately, it is all about them. If you appeal to them on the level of human decency their hearing ability goes away. You’ll need to show them how it is costing them too much money.

      Reply
    4. Alton

      It’s possible, but my experience with demo companies is that a lot of the employees skew older, with a lot of retirees and women who left the workforce after having kids who are now looking for a flexible part-time job that doesn’t have a lot of barriers for entry. And yes, some of those people are in a position where they’re willing to say “Forget this” if they’re asked to do stuff like drive to work in a snow storm.

      But I think some of these companies just don’t care. There’s a ton of pressure on management to have these demos executed as scheduled, and lack of execution sometimes reflects poorly on the manager more than on the individuals who fail to show up or volunteer. It’s hard to find people to cover a shift because a lot of times all the reliable people are already scheduled to work. It easily gets to a point where the managers get desperate and start grasping at straws. When I did the job, I got a call from my manager once on my day off asking if I could fill in to cover an event that day. It was already a few hours after the event was supposed to have started. And it was at a store a three hours away. And my manager knew I didn’t have a car and that I was only able to work at stores closer to home. And this wasn’t an isolated thing–I knew a lot of people who were asked if they could fill in last-minute at stores hours away. On some level, I don’t think management really expected us to be able to do it. They were just desperate that common sense started to go out the window.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        But you’d think that if they’re that desperate, a single “It’s just too dangerous, and nobody will be there, so it won’t be cost-effective anyway” wouldn’t make them fire a normally-very-dependable contractor.

        Reply
        1. Alton

          It depends on the company, really. At mine, it was notoriously hard for anyone below the manager level to get fired unless they were caught stealing–there were some terrible employees that the managers were basically stuck with. More common, in my experience, was that people who got a reputation for being unreliable weren’t offered as many hours. Other companies have different standards, and the OP might work for a company that’s more willing to fire people.

          Reply
  13. DeskBird

    I used to work for a company that did this exact thing – sampling in supermarkets and promos, and their concern for employee health and safety was exactly 0%. Unless you are the only person in a very hard to staff area they consider demonstrators to be entirely disposable. I think i’ve told this story before – but once there was a gas leak on the block our office was on and the firemen came to evacuate the building – demanding we leave at once. Like, don’t even take the time to grab your purse get out right now. We got to the safe zone and called the owner to let him know what happened – and got yelled at and reprimanded for leaving the office unstaffed without calling him for an ok first.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      “Sir, I’m not sure if you realize this, but emergency personnel trump your okay. The emergency isn’t holding back until we’ve heard back from you. If you have some magical powers that fire/gas/etc. listens to, that would be awesome to know about for future.”

      Reply
    2. Caroline

      This doesn’t even make sense–if everyone was evacuated, who would you be missing handing samples out to???

      Reply
    3. Becky

      I’m just flabbergasted at this, how far removed do you have to be from reality and plain common sense to reprimand someone for evacuating in an emergency without your permission?

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Where ever this boss is located, there are quite a few people sharing the same space. I have met over a dozen of them. Well, I quit counting after a dozen.

        Reply
  14. eplawyer

    First of all OP, I am sorry you were in an accident. Breaking your glasses when you need them is horrible. I hope you had a spare pair.

    Second of all, although this was mentioned above, go see a lawyer. Don’t look at your documents yourself. Take them to a lawyer and say “here’s what I signed, here is what happened, can anything be done?” If the lawyer says “sorry out of luck” well you are no worse off than you were. But, there might be something. And I am not big on going to a lawyer so that should tell you something in this case.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Absolutely agreed.

      Even if you’ll be working for side job for a short while longer, I would review the documents/waivers you were provided so that you’re clear on what’s going on as you approach your end date (please tell me you’ve given notice!).

      Reply
  15. lapgiraffe

    It sounds like a freelance gig, so unless this people are amazing to work without outside of this policy and are paying for your health insurance, I say it’s time to go out on your own or find another company similar to this. I work in wine sales and there are several companies that offer this service, from a larger corporate type to a local gal who has her own small company and individuals who just give me their info and tell me to call. I know this doesn’t help with your current situation, but you can make some nice cash without this kind of nonsense.

    Reply
  16. Troutwaxer

    I work for a company (and its a very good company, BTW, the best job I ever had) where I do a lot of travel, anywhere from 100-500 miles a day. When I can’t drive, either because of weather or because I’m just too tired, I stop at a cheap motel and stay the night. I don’t bill the company or play any games with my hours/mileage, its just one of those things that goes with the job. I do it perhaps 5-6 times a year and keep my mouth shut.

    Reply
    1. Gadfly

      I would think a responsible business would want to know, if for no other reason than knowing the true costs of doing your job. But I generally am startled by how many managers or companies would prefer to play ostrich yo get better numbers on paper.

      Reply
      1. Troutwaxer

        Maybe I’ll drop a hint to my manager, but trends in my industry make me a little reluctant in some ways. Nothing to do with the company, mind you, but there are some wider issues.

        Reply
  17. Amy the Rev

    I see upthread that this happened a few weeks ago, but for anyone in a similar situation who is reading this, when I was hostessing at a local restaurant (that generally was incredibly fair to employees, but sometimes a little out-of-touch), there was a really bad blizzard. Fortunately I didn’t have a shift that night, but I saw on facebook that the restaurant posted something along the lines of “A little snow doesnt scare us, we are open tonight! Come on in and warm up with food from our amazing chef Wakeen and drinks by our incredible bartender Fergus!”. People started commenting on their post how dangerous that would be to expect staff to come in, and when the governor officially declared a state of emergency, they closed for the night. Sometimes a little social media pressure can help tip the scales toward ethical behavior…

    Reply
    1. Emilia Bedelia

      You’re right, but I doubt a sampling company has much of a social media following such that people would care.

      If I were the OP, however, I’d call the store where I was doing the sampling and let them know what happened. They may have a little more clout with management to change their policy.

      Reply
  18. whack on the side of the head

    lol – i could have written this letter with the exception that it’s my FT job and I can’t afford to lose it. Had an event this weekend and now I’m missing a part of my fender on my 3 month old car :(
    yep, just one more bill to add to the unpaid stack that is mounting…

    Reply
    1. Gadfly

      Hugs. I hope you are looking for a replacement job. It is a whole lot different a risk calculus when you need the job.

      Reply
    2. FormerLibrarian

      In a previous life I was a hospital librarian in a part of the country which gets snow and usually at least one blizzard a year. Some years after I started there, management decided that anyone who worked on the main campus was automatically “emergency personnel”, and had to be at work for their scheduled shifts, no matter what. We were told that if the roads were closed and the state police stopped us all we had to do was show them our hospital badge and we’d be fine. All I could think was that the poor statie trying to keep the roads clear was *not* going to look at my badge, see the word “Librarian” and think there was any legit reason for the hospital administration to demand my presence that day. Staff also got dinged if we called in on bad weather days. So a lot of non-clinical area managers let staff ask for permission to “take a vacation day tomorrow if the weather is as bad as they say it will be”. That apparently counted for pre-arranged and so we didn’t get written up.

      Based on some reading of the legalities involved it seems there is a vague chance that if your employer demands that you come to work even though the roads are closed or you will lose your job/suffer disciplinary action, at that point they may become liable for your travel and any incidents which happen during your trip to and from work. Of course IANAL, and I’m sure different states have different laws too. Though you’d think that any company which only cares about the bottom line would figure that the bad publicity of being sued by the grieving family would cost a lot more (even if they won the suit) than any income lost because of the employee’s absence, especially if they aren’t going to be making any that day anyway what with the lack of clients/customers/patrons.

      Reply
  19. LittleLove

    I’ve worked for companies like these and they not only treat their ‘contractors’ like dirt, they will try to stiff you on your pay. They don’t care if what they want you to do is impossible (given 45 minutes for a 5 hour reset) or dangerous (they actually wanted me to offer people OTC drugs by opening a package and handing out the drug in the store aisles) or just stupid. The pay is not worth it. There are some that are not so bad but the majority are awful.

    Reply
    1. The Strand

      I mentioned this upthread – are you using Volition to post about the companies (anonymously?). I haven’t done this sort of thing in many years but I paid close attention to the companies that were slow payers or asking people to do stupid, risky things.

      Reply
  20. Sabine the Very Mean

    I worked at a bank in high school. In 2003, in Northern Colo, a huge storm hit which resulted in the first EVER snow day of my entire life…I was a senior in high school and it ended up being a whole week. So imagine what level of storm that must’ve been! Wouldn’t you know it, when that Saturday rolled around and I called my boss to inform her that not only was I not able to come in but that I couldn’t even move my AWD car ONE INCH in my own shoveled driveway, she simply responded that she was on her way to come get me (in another town) and take me to work. It was quite the conversation when I told her that I wasn’t willing to risk my life in my own hands and certainly wouldn’t consider risking my life in her hands all so I could go be a teller for 3 hours.

    Reply
      1. Beanie so Meanie

        You do remember it! ha! We also invaded Iraq, the underclassmen were taking CSAP and Spring Break was coming up….so much time off!

        Reply
        1. Charlie

          I dug a snow pit with my bro Jason, started a campfire, and stuck beers into the four-foot rampart of snow that surrounded us while we bitched about how dumb Bush was (oh, my sweet summer past self). It was a pretty fantastic four days.

          Reply
  21. Not So NewReader

    OP, I will wear a scar on my face for the rest of my life because of a job demanding that I show up no matter what. I am lucky in that the scar is not really noticeable. I notice it though. The real problem is that I am scared to drive in winter now. I creep along like every moment is my last. (I might have to go out on a frozen lake to address this fear.)

    From experience, if you let this go by you unchecked, (either use Alison’s suggest or quit the job entirely) the next stupid thing this company does will be worse. That is how it goes. I told myself to overlook it and sure enough they did things that were even dumber. There is really no point to hanging on, they are showing you who they are. It’s okay to believe them.

    Reply
  22. Sap

    LW, I am a lawyer, though nothing I say should be taken as legal advice–I don’t know what state you’re in or what your duties look like for this employer.

    That said, a way to talk about this with your employer that might fit Allison’s paradigm of phrasing things as “problems FOR US that we can solve together” may be to point out that in many jurisdictions, your classification as an independent contractor who is not able to hold the company responsibility for damage *to you* has no relationship to what would happen if you’d hit a person/car/anything other than a telephone pole. You signed something that affects your rights–not the rights of someone else who you might hit. If you’re driving in unsafe conditions at their direction, even if there’s an indemnity clause in that contract, they likely would still have to pay the victim of an accident you are responsible for and *then* collect from you.

    The conversation could start with something like “I hit a telephone poll, and while I understand that I am responsible for damages to my own car under our contract and am not looking for any money from the company, I’m concerned about the company’s liability to third parties if contractors continue driving in unsafe conditions. The accident really made me think about the potential damages we could be exposing ourselves to.”

    Again, I don’t know where you are, what the scope of your relationship is, or any of the other relevant factors under most of the legal tests for liability to third parties. But alerting them to the possibility that there is no contract in the world that allows you to sign away third parties’ rights to sue the employer of you hit someone during some future blizzard might change their thinking on this.

    Reply
    1. Sap

      (a list of terms that it may help for you to look into in your state are: vicarious liability, direct liability, respondeat superior, and any combination of tort/tortuous/negligent/nce agent and third party.)

      Reply
  23. Username has gone missing

    British person here. I’m shocked. Over here you are required to take care of your own health and safety – and if your employer isn’t on board you can contact the HSE. Do you have anything similar?

    Reply
    1. Pineapple Incident

      We have state labor boards and the department of labor/OSHA, but none of those are going to have much teeth in another 10 days…

      Reply
  24. a different angle

    Unfortunately the reason that this person is getting so much pressure to show up for work is because the public creates the demand to keep these stores open by running around like crazy when bad weather hits. I live in the South, and way too many people act like complete idiots when it starts to snow.

    I have a friend who works at a local grocery store. He was at work when our recent weather–which had been predicted for days– hit and he said more than 400 people showed up in the first hour after the snow and sleet started pouring. The employees weren’t allowed to leave because the customers were demanding to be waited on and the lines were out the door. He said he saw people in there that had already been in there several times in the past couple of days and their carts were full yet again. This was after the stores had already been packed for three days due to the weather forecasting.

    And then after the snow finished, the news is running stories about people “needing” to get out and going to local coffee shops, malls, and stores. Those stores stay open because employees get pressured to come in. You may think it’s fun to have a “snow day” off from work and you might be going a few miles to the coffee shop in your SUV. My friend is driving 35 miles (because he cannot afford the high rents in our town) in a beat up Ford Fiesta with bald tires to get to his job and his boss is calling him every 15 minutes asking when he is going to be there.

    My point is that we can do our part by staying home. Stores won’t stay open if there aren’t any customers.

    Reply
    1. The Strand

      I’m really sorry for the thoughtlessness of the consumers your friend is dealing with.

      Global climate change and sudden, shocking change has been a reality for a while, but some people have a real short attention span. Couple that with people moving to new areas where they are ignorant of historical weather trends or needs. I see people in my part of the South who are ill-equipped to cope with cold weather (just as I was ill-equipped to deal with hurricanes when I got here). Consuming like a maniac presumably makes them feel safer.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        This has nothing to do with climate change. It has to do with being an idiot. When the forecasts are for this kind of weather, you make sure you are stocked up. When the current weather reports are “hazardous driving, please stay off the roads” you STAY OFF THE ROADS unless you work in a fire station, ER or the like. And, if you are an employer, you don’t cater to the idiots. In the long term, it works.

        Reply
  25. Cartimandua

    I hope this doesn’t come across as blaming you in any way, OP, because that isn’t my intention at all.
    You, in common with me and hundreds of thousands of other independent contractors have been the victim of the sort of forced teaming / obligation transfer which exploitative companies and agencies rely on to stay in business. They will use language which makes their problems into your problems (“we have promised to do X”), which makes it sound like you are subject to the same rules as employees (“all requests for time off must be approved by…”), or which make you feel like you have no control over the situation. Reframing the situation to better reflect reality has really helped me regain some feeling of control and self-worth in these situations.

    They are not your employer, they are your client. You are your own boss.
    Their clients are not your clients. They may have promised their clients that you will not eat, drink or excrete within 24 hours of being on their premises. They may have promised their clients that they will provide this service in the middle of a blizzard or an earthquake or an alien invasion. That’s between them and their client, it is not something that you automatically have to guarantee to them.
    They may use the language “you must do X”. You, as their supplier, should reframe that as “my client is demanding X. According to my contract with them, failure to deliver X will result in Y.” Then you decide, as your own boss, whether the fulfillment of their request is in line with your own business goals and rules of operation. (Rules such as not endangering your own safety, for example…)
    Again, their business plan is not your business plan.
    On this issue of having to provide your own coverage: this is something exploitative agencies insist on to cut down on their own admin costs. Again, they are trying to make you feel as though their problem is your problem. If you’re not being paid for providing that service then you are not responsible for ensuring that the service is provided. They are using forced teaming / obligation transfer to make you feel that you “must” do administrative work that you aren’t being paid for.
    On the issue of showing them your hospital bills… NOPE. Just nope. They are your client, not your employer. If I take on a client and realise I won’t be able to complete the work then I return their deposit, apologise, suggest another suitable contractor if I want to be extra helpful but there is no reason at all for me to provide proof of why I can’t do the work. All they need to know is that I’m pulling out of the agreement (with whatever consequences may be included in that agreement). They sure as all dangit don’t get confidential medical information. Suppliers failing to fulfill orders due to unforeseen circumstances is a common occurrence in business and is something that your client needs to plan for. Heaping shame on contractors for being ill / injured / indisposed is entirely unjustified as well as a crappy thing to do.

    This reframing doesn’t essentially change the fact that they can decide, at any time, to dispense with your services (they can’t “fire” you because they aren’t your employer). But it may make you feel under less pressure to fulfill their ridiculous demands and better able to make a reasoned, practical decision about whether to fire them as a client.

    Reply
  26. alsoAlison

    I know you signed a form, however, this is why companies have workers comp insurance. If you have to provide a personal vehicle to travel to a work event, they’re on the hook for you and your vehicle. I don’t know your state’s laws regarding workers comp, but I think it’s *definitely* worth asking an employment lawyer if you’d be covered. Not so that you can stick it to them for being jackholes, but so that they can pay for the expenses related to your heath and car. They can’t make you take undue risk without sharing some of that risk – otherwise we’d all be at our employers’ mercy to come and go as they wish, regardless of our own health and safety.

    Reply
  27. TheBeetsMotel

    A company that won’t take your word that you’re in the HOSPITAL is one that is used to going through a lot of employees due to unreasonable availability expectations. They’re jackasses who view you as replaceable.

    And, as your accident confirms, while vehicles can be replaced, you cannot. I’d suggest starting a job hunt. These people don’t care about you long-term.

    Reply
  28. Christine

    OP, are you getting mileage as part of your compensation package? Would others please answer this . . my thought is that the travel is part of the job … she’s had an accident and injury while traveling at the request of the employer. case for workman’s compensation. Years ago I was hired as a contract employee. I was in desperate for a job and signed the contract waiving my rights for workman’s comp. Someone spilt a drink in the break room, I went down hard busting my leg, concussion, and all of the bones in my ankle (it twisted around and was hanging there), and cracked tail bone. My limited insurance & workman’s comp (employer filed the accident report) refused to let me go into a in house rehab facility. I was in a wheel chair for a long time. I got 3 weeks of in house physical and occupational therapy. Total of 2 surgeries, lots of metal in my leg, more therapy after going home, mileage & transportation to my appointments, etc. The pain meds knocked me for a loop so I wasn’t able to drive for awhile.

    Regardless of my signing that form, which I was told was illegal, I got everything covered along with 5 months of missed wages. My total medical bills, mileage, etc. was over two hundred and one thousand dollars that the insurance paid.

    Just because an employer said they are unwilling to cover this, that you signed that right away, it’s not necessarily true. I recommend that you go to a lawyer, get some free advice and go from there. If you have decided to walk away from this job, it may be of a benefit to file a lawsuit depending on the laws in your state. Many times employers have new employees sign away a right, etc., that they cannot legally do. If saves them in the long run because most people will say, I signed this … I cannot ask for reimbursement or compensation.

    Reply
  29. Ann Dancer

    I am surprised that no one has expressed that an employer has zero rights to demand to see a person’s hospital bills. A requirement for a doctor to excuse the employee from work, or to limit their duties should be sufficient. An employee who falls for this intrusion into their private life may very well be setting themselves up for future abuse based on the medical information provided. Never do this. Never. Further, as an Independent Contractor has even less reason to comply with such an off the wall ( and possibly illegal) demand.

    Reply

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