my boss forced me to do a video call — with eye contact — while I was driving

A reader writes:

The other day I survived a car trip while doing one of those things we know we’re not supposed to do while driving: holding my phone in my hand while giving lots of eye contact with the camera. Since I do not typically use my phone while I drive, I did not even have any sort of dashboard system to hold my phone.

The back story is that I had to travel during the workday. Life happened, and I was not able to get back in time for a meeting. My boss told me to join in via Zoom while I drove. Okay. When I got in the car I switched the app to safe driving mode (which mutes my microphone and turns off video).

My boss declared this completely unacceptable. She said faces and eye contact were required. I explained I was driving without equipment, but she didn’t care. This is what led to me driving for an over an hour in an extremely uncomfortable situation.

I am kicking myself for not standing up for myself. But is this truly a norm to require camera-on communication during meetings without exception?


No, it is not.

Your boss knew you were driving and told you that you needed to make regular eye contact with the camera regardless?

That’s not that different than your boss ordering you to drive drunk, or to experiment with falling asleep at the wheel.

She put your life at risk, and the lives of other people on the road. It’s reprehensible.

That’s not hyperbole. People die from doing this.

If you couldn’t get out of the call, ideally you would have pulled over and done the call while safely parked. If that wasn’t an option for some reason, the next best option would be to say, “I can’t safely drive while doing that. I will keep audio on but cannot look at the video while I drive.” And if she wouldn’t accept that, that’s a time when you fake technical issues to get out of it (or, of course, hold your ground if you can do that without risking your job).

I know that it can be hard to know what to do in the moment when someone with authority over you is doing something outrageous … but there’s also a point where safety (yours and others’) has to override any natural deference to authority. If you’re now thinking “holy hell, what was I thinking to do that, obviously I should have refused,” maybe the sheer shock of a situation just got in the way. But I think it’s worth reflecting on how comfortable you are standing up for yourself when it’s important to, because you shouldn’t ever again put yourself or others at risk because an unreasonable manager tells you to.

P.S. “Faces and eye contact are mandatory” is already an unnecessary requirement on calls most of the time, but putting people’s lives at stake for it is truly awful.

{ 420 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Y’all, the point has been made that the letter writer should have made different choices. It is not useful or constructive to repeat that over and over. Please focus your comments on advice that’s actionable for her now. I will remove comments that don’t do that from this point forward.

    1. Littorally*

      Thank you! I feel so bad for the LW who write in for help with a toxic situation and is getting slammed for it.

      1. staceyizme*

        Yikes, I caught just a couple of comments so far and “hot, hot H-O-T!!!” was the tone. Not helpful, generally speaking. We can get by with being preachy, probably. But not “ass chewing” level preachy.

      2. Archie Goodwin*

        Agreed. I’m extremely sympathetic to the letter writer; I understand how someone’s mind can be skewed by unreasonable demands made by someone in a position of power over them. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize what was essentially a panic decision.

        1. Falling Leaves*

          It’s fair to criticize a panic decision that could have killed other people. You can sympathize with why they panicked, but it is fair to point out that it was the incorrect decision and should not be done again. I’m not advocating for name-calling or rudeness, since that isn’t productive and usually makes people shut down rather than listen to feedback, but criticism can be polite and fair.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            And the criticism was done fifty million times, which was Alison’s point. We can all move along and get to providing actual, actionable suggestions for the OP.

          2. Ellie*

            It didn’t kill anyone though – OP was lucky, they got away with it. They’re asking for advice now on what they should do next time since they know they were wrong, which is the only thing they can do about it now.

      3. charo*

        Hey, I feel sorry for the family who get plowed into when she crosses into their lane! This kind of accident happens a lot the last few years and it’s obvious that sedans don’t plow into oncoming semi’s on purpose, they do it because they’re distracted. Texting even.

        It’s not chastising OP as much as chastising the behavior that causes so many horrific accidents. It’s not just that SHE could be hurt, it’s that entire families get wiped out by texting or drunk drivers.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Thanks for this Alison! I’ve worked for unreasonable people before and made poor decisions out of fear, and people telling me “well you should have just done x” is not helpful. Obvious advice that works in a healthy workplace does not help someone in an unhealthy one, and “just quit your job” or “tell them to pound sand and get easy unemployment if/when they fire you” only makes for a nice fantasy or sitcom episode.

      I’m not saying the advice is wrong or there’s bad intent behind it, but it’s important to take into account all the other factors at play.

        1. OP*

          Yes! I had all sorts of should’ve/would’ve thoughts and ideas when I finished the drive. I was definitely frazzled by the boss and sadly I tend to bend to authority.

          I’m actually not bothered by the brow-beating I’ve seen as I completely agree with everyone, but I appreciate Allison’s moderation.

          1. Caliente*

            Listen, I learned a long time ago that you have to manage yourself. Unfortunately many people in a higher position at a job truly think they’re better than you and that they think what they say goes.
            But guess what – if you die they’ll step over the body and hire someone else. THATS how much you matter to them. I know it sounds harsh but for me it helps. And I’m someone with a GREAT work ethic. But you aren’t in charge of me and my family and my life, just because you’re a rung or 2 higher up in the office. Your life isn’t more valuable because you’re CEO – give me a break.

            1. Former Employee*

              “But guess what – if you die they’ll step over the body and hire someone else.”

              Hear, Hear! I think that every employee working for an unreasonable manager should have that cross stitched some place where only they can see it. Then, they can pull it out and remind themselves of this whenever the boss starts pressing them to do something they feel is risky, ill advised or just plain illegal.

          2. Xavier Desmond*

            As one of the people who I think had a comment deleted for being too harsh on you I appreciate you are clearly taking what you did seriously and are learning from it. Good luck for the future and best wishes.

          3. Happy*

            My comments I’m sure also look(ed) harsh because I don’t think you reacted well. But I really do think this is great learning opportunity for you and all of us who have now been put in your shoes to consider how we should handle this situation if we ever find ourselves in it.

            Milgram’s experiments showed that most people will obey authority figures, even if they are uncomfortable doing so. This sort of thing isn’t a *you* problem, it’s an *us* problem.

            And it’s really, really a *your boss* problem.

      1. Anon234*

        Sorry about that OP, I was one of the early negative responders and feel bad you experienced a pile on.

        We all make panicked choices in life. I hope your boss doesn’t push you into decisions like this again.

      2. actually, my name's Marina*

        I’m guessing you did what you thought you had to do to keep your job, and in this economy the stakes are high. I don’t blame you, just the — person — who thought it was okay to make this a hoop for you to jump through. Please forgive yourself, even just a little?

      3. AnecData*

        It’s really hard to say the right thing, in the right moment, especially when you’re not expecting it!

        One thing that has helped me has been practicing saying things for difficult situations out loud someone – I’ve been doing that to feel comfortable with a few interventions/responses to racist & sexist remarks – and just reading the words and /thinking/ that’s what I’ll say next time wasn’t nearly as helpful. If you think there’s any chance this might happen again, can you get a friend to stand across from you and just say out loud a few times “I can’t do that – it isn’t safe for me or anyone around me” (or even if you know for sure this particular situation will never arise again – this might help in an entirely different situation, and being prepared for that will be a way to make something good come out of this really difficult+awful situation!)

        1. NeonFireworks*

          This is how I reacted to the letter as well. If you don’t already have practiced routines for improbable but high-stakes social situations, it’s hard to react like an idealized badass superstar in the moment.

      4. Kiwi with laser beams*

        While it’s definitely good to recognise that that was very dangerous, blaming it all on yourself is another symptom of normalising a toxic environment. It sounds like not relying on your boss to make decisions that will keep you safe is necessary in order to keep yourself and others safe, but if you’re more furious at yourself than at her, you’ve normalised the way she’s treating you and I think it would serve you well to get good and furious about what SHE did, because then you can decide what you want to do from here.

    3. Elbe*

      Thank you for this! I’m pretty surprised at the comments here. No one – including the LW – is claiming that they made the right choice. I don’t see the point of beating up on someone who is already kicking themselves.

      No one should have to choose between losing their job in a recession and driving dangerously. The LW should have never been put in that situation by the manager. It’s completely unacceptable, especially when the reasons were so pointless.

    4. jenkins*

      I’m sorry, I had the page open for a while and commented before refreshing so didn’t see this – I think my recent comment falls foul of this request.

    5. OP*

      I also don’t want to make excuses for myself or anyone in my situation, but if I may allow some insight, I am on the spectrum and some manifestations are “doing as I’m told” to unusual extents. This is definitely the worst by far, but I do tend to be weirdly obedient to authority (something I am working on and Allison’s advice is so helpful)

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Honestly, even if you weren’t on the spectrum, it sounds like you were in a stressful situation BEFORE your boss was unreasonable. Stress inherently leads to worse decision making and trying to stand-up to an authority figure on top of that…ugh. You don’t *need* an excuse, because what you did was completely understandable (i.e. took the path of least resistance when stressed out).

        I’m glad you made it safe.

        In case it’s not clear, your company’s policy/culture of being on video calls while driving is stupid, reckless, and shows how little they care about their employees’ health and safety. Sorry, that really sucks :/

      2. kt*

        Much sympathy about that. It was a huge deal for me when I was younger and really got me into a few bad situations that were so bad that… well, I had to break that tendency to survive, really. You can definitely work through this.

      3. Archie Goodwin*

        I have that tendency, too, in my case because it was ingrained in me from youth (though I’m naturally deferential, too, which is a large part of it) – I very much understand the compunction to Do As You Are Told by someone. Hell, I’ve been in the working world for 15 years at this point, and it’s still my default setting, although I’ve gotten better at mitigating it.

        So I know exactly where you’re coming from.

      4. Red-handed Jill*

        Sorry so many folks have been piling on, OP. I have similar difficulties in processing unreasonable demands when I’m stressed out or distracted by something else going on at the same time, so I definitely understand the instinct to “do as your told” only to realize later that the request was unreasonable (and in this case, unsafe). Depending on the culture of your employer, I think discussing this with HR or someone in leadership might be helpful. Your boss wanting eyes on constantly during Zoom meetings is pretty extreme either way.

      5. Not A Girl Boss*

        . I don’t know a single person who hasn’t “gone with the flow” and regretted it later. The important thing is that you learn from your mistake and then… move on. There’s just no point in continuing to dwell in the emotion of a mistake (or for others to emotionally berate you over it). Its just not useful.
        Clearly, you wouldn’t do this again next time. Creating a plan for how you will handle it if it happens again is a good way to stop worrying and move past it. And that’s exactly the kind of thing Alison is helpful for, so good on you for writing in!

      6. samwise*

        I don’t blame you. I have definietly done things I regretted later because a boss told me I needed to, and anyone who says they haven’t are lying. I’m sorry that you had to go through this!

      7. ADHSquirrelWhat*

        Hang on – you’re on the spectrum, and your boss is mandating /eye contact/ for meetings? Does your boss know you’re on the spectrum?

        On top of all the other “wtf boss person” stuff, that’s definitely mandating appearance over actual function.

        1. Observer*

          Given what a jerk boss seems to be, I would not be surprised that this is WHY the boss is mandating eye contact.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            +1. As soon as I read the letter and saw the bit about eye contact, I was pretty sure there was some sort of weird neurodiversity policing thing going on, either about the OP specifically or the office in general.

        2. OP*

          I actually have little issue making eye contact (as far as I’m aware.)

          But Boss said eye contact during Zoom meetings is one of our norms because “it looks like we’re engaged”

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            Oh look! It’s one of my pet peeves! The importance of appearances over everything else!

            Eye contact does not equal ENGAGEMENT. (This yelling is not at you, OP, but *for* you.) Eye contact can often mean DISengagement. It can mean the person has nothing better to do. It can mean that the person is engaged.

            If _signalling_ engagement is more important to this person than being interested in the meeting, that’s a sign that the meetings could have been emails in the first place. Argh.

            I won’t rant further (too late), but I wanted to also express support, OP. I’ve often done the quick thing to get a task done and realized I should have asked for an approval first, or gotten it cleared, etc. So I know that panic, and I’m sorry your boss is a complete jerk.

            I agree with the commenter who talked about roleplaying. It has helped me immensely. Take care.

          2. Amaranth*

            I’m really curious if the other people on the call could tell you were driving because if I’d been a vendor or client and saw that I’d be so incredibly nervous and distracted I’d want to bring it up and ask you to pull over. Obviously the other participants didn’t say anything, which is another reaction failure in all this.

      8. tinyhipsterboy*

        I’m glad you’re safe! I hope you’re able to reach out to someone above your boss to discuss what happened, because your boss’s demands were unsafe and unreasonable. Hang in there!

      9. Falling Leaves*

        Your boss is definitely a jerk. I hope one positive you can take away from this situation is that authority figures don’t necessarily know better than you do. It might help to think of other examples of when people in positions of authority made mistakes or bad decisions. Maybe coming up with a big list of examples might help you trust your own instincts better. Some go-to phrases to politely refuse directions would probably help too.

      10. Gazebo Slayer*

        As someone else on the spectrum, I also very much understand making bad decisions in a moment of panic, and a fear of Getting In Trouble.

      11. Ellie*

        I’m not on the spectrum and I really don’t know what I would have done if I was in the car instead of you – it was an impossible situation to be in. It’s not a you problem, it’s your bosses problem. Don’t take on more than your fair share of the guilt… if you’d crashed your car, it would have been you dealing with the conseqeunces. Your boss would have gotten away with it – they demanded a huge risk from you while taking none on themselves, just to satisfy their own ego. You should be more angry with them.

      12. Lexie*

        OP, I didn’t notice if this was mentioned anywhere but check into your employer’s cellphone use policy regarding driving. I’ve had some experiences where the official policy was no cellphone use at all but supervisors and management took that more as a suggestion and would tell people they still needed to answer their phones. What they didn’t realize until someone called them on it was that particular company policy was dictated by the liability insurance company. If this is the case with your company that gives you something to fall back on if the situation comes up again.

    6. Unfettered scientist*

      I was an early negative response. Apologies for the pile-on. I’ve been almost hit by distracted drivers many times walking in my city and I react very strongly to unsafe driving.
      In terms of what to do for the future, I think if you find yourself in this situation again (feeling pressure to do something unsafe), a good tool is pretending you must be misunderstanding your boss because SURELY they don’t mean for you to do something unsafe, and if that fails (or instead of that), pretend you don’t know what the boss means when it comes to the unsafe option. For the former, could be something like “Oh, I’m actually driving now so I won’t be able to turn on my video. Don’t want to get pulled over!”” for the latter, something with the tone of “oh I can’t figure out how to turn my video on” or “I am having internet issues so if I drop from the call, apologies and I will catch up with the meeting notes after the meeting” and then hang up the call.

  2. NerdyLibraryClerk*

    I’d say it’s functionally identical to being ordered to drive drunk. Heck, Mythbusters made it clear that even hands-free, driving while on the phone is impaired driving. Your boss is now in the running for Worst Boss of the Year!

    1. cody*

      The letter doesn’t say that the boss ordered OP to keep driving. OP could have pulled over, but choose not to for some reason. So no, it’s not functionally identical to being ordered to drive drunk.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Everyone’s at fault here, I agree.
        Although, where I live, we have few tollways that will take you good 10 miles to the next exit.
        And you can’t really park yourself on the shoulder or you may literally die.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          I’m in the Northeast and there are PLENTY of roads / highways here too where there’s no safe or legal place to pull over and park! Parking the car would have been the ideal solution, but I doubt that the LW had that option (or she’d have taken it and there’d have been no need for a letter to AAM.)

          This was criminally irresponsible behavior on the part of the LW’s boss. At the very least, the LW could have been arrested for distracted driving – at worst, there could have been an accident costing several people their lives. Please put this in the running for “worst boss of the year”!

          1. cody*

            I’m also in the Northeast and I can’t think of a single road/highway where you can drive for OVER AN HOUR without finding a place to pull over. Maybe it wasn’t possible to pull over immediately, but I just don’t believe that it was impossible to pull over at all.

            1. singularity*

              OP said she had to travel during the work day and that ‘life’ happened, so she was most likely in an area that she wasn’t familiar with, so she wouldn’t have any idea of landmarks that were safe to use to pull over. Once she started the call, looking for a place to pull over would be impossible without breaking eye contact for extended periods of time.

              We don’t know where she lives. We can’t assume that all places are designed the same and have the same road conditions.

              1. cody*

                “she was most likely in an area that she wasn’t familiar with”

                No this is not the most likely explanation. It’s actually quite a reach.

              2. Quill*

                By “life” I’m assuming constructions or traffic jams, both of which could make it near impossible to pull over when driving in a metro area.

            2. Sabrina*

              This is awfully specific, but between exits 2 and 3 on the mass pike is about an hour with no exit and one rest stop that’s now than 40 minutes in one direction. (Former western mass girl here)

            3. Not So NewReader*

              Some of the roads in upstate NY get pretty desolate. It’s possible to drive on a major highway for an hour and not see another car.
              I think that any person- man or woman- would be wise to think about their surroundings before pulling over. A while ago there was a story of an older couple who laid dead in the car on the median for two weeks before anyone found them. This is because medians can be quite wide and well covered in trees. Their particular spot also involved an extremely deep ditch, I believe. Some of these ditches could hide a tractor trailer because they are so large.

        2. LunaLena*

          It doesn’t sound like the OP was in an area like that, though? She said in the letter “When I got in the car I switched the app to safe driving mode,” meaning the car was parked for the start of the meeting. Maybe she had to leave because she was in a pay-by-the-hour parking lot or something and didn’t want to pay extra to stay there, but that means she wasn’t on the freeway or anything at the time either.

          The only thing I can think is that the OP was en route to the airport to catch a flight or something and didn’t have time to stop for an hour, so she had to keep driving while taking the meeting. But I also think there’s a lot of information missing from this story, and given the information just in the story, it’s likely that everyone involved exercised bad judgment to some degree.

      2. Lady Heather*

        I agree. There are options – “I can’t because I’m driving, I’ll park at the nearest gas station.” Unless there’s someone bleeding to death in your back seat, you have more options than endangering everyone around you.

      3. Observer*

        Maybe. Or maybe not. The OP doesn’t explain why they didn’t pull over, but it is reasonable to assume that they had a reason for not pulling over.

        1. Wintermute*

          uh, no I don’t think that’s reasonable, because they apparently thought it was reasonable to just… drive severely impaired. Now, when we’re put on the spot it can be hard to think logically and to parse what’s happening to you– but their judgement around this is highly suspect and I don’t think we can take for granted they were acting logically or sensibly, because clearly they were not.

          1. LTL*

            They may not have thought it was reasonable, especially since they’re writing to AAM about it.

            If there was no place to pull over, someone might still listen to their boss, not because they were unaware of the danger, but because anxiety over defying authority trumped how terrified they were about crashing the car. I’m not saying this is what happened to the OP (hopefully I’m not kicking off some “OP has anxiety” fic) but it’s worth keeping in mind that the incident doesn’t prove that OP doesn’t realize the dangers of what she did.

          2. Jojo*

            On the buckman bridge in Jacksonville florida you can be stuck on a 3 mile stretch of road for a few hours with no way to get off if hit that area during rush hour. And it is not all bridge.

        2. DataGirl*

          Given how awful this person’s boss is, I expect in addition to being required to attend the meeting, they were also likely required to get back to work as soon as possible.

          1. A Simple Narwhal*

            Yes, I’m guessing that this is a boss that is a “my word is law” and there’s no room to budge on anything. I’ve definitely worked for unreasonable people that have made me so fearful that I have definitely acted in not my best interest because of course you have to do what they say. Only with some distance and someone pointing out the obvious sane solution could I see it.

            1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

              I mean, LW did comply with the video request, so it does sound like “my word is law” is not an exaggeration.

            2. Anonny*

              Op mentioned above that they’re autistic, and as an autistic person myself, I know that having two equally urgent responsibilities will either cause me attempt both simultaneously (even if its a bad idea) and/or freeze up and start screaming.

              Personally with this boss I recommend screaming. Not because it’s a good idea, but because **** ’em.

              1. Quill*

                Oh god I’ve done that too (family brainweird is *probably* related) and I’m still recovering from this morning’s “everything is urgent, cannot find brain to work on anything” bomb as I discovered that several items I was supposed to cover yesterday weren’t in.

        3. OP*

          Not to give location, but I’m sorry to say it wasn’t an ideal road situation for pulling over.

          Gas station would have been handy.

          Believe me, I had all sorts of lightbulbs when I finished the drive (though there was some degree of schedule to keep).

        4. Ellie*

          That’s a good point though – whether they had a place to pull over or not, did their boss know that? Maybe the boss (I’m stretching a bit) didn’t realise that pulling over wasn’t an option, and that was what they were effectively asking for?

          Its easy to speculate from here, but if the OP had said, ‘I can’t pull over, I’m on the highway – I’ll switch on my camera as soon as I can find a place to park’, it’s possible that would have been accepted.

          If it hadn’t been, or if it happens in future, I think the best strategy is to spell it out clearly – ‘This is too dangerous, I could have an accident. I’ll pull over and call you back.’ Then stick to it. Your life is worth more than your job.

      4. JSPA*

        This implies there was a safe and legal choice.

        It’s not legal to stop on some roads, and not safe to stop (no shoulder) on others. Nor can you leave a small child alone on the corner after daycare closes. You can’t just show up late for dialysis, either. If you don’t have enough gas to make it home if you stop and run the A/C in the heat for an hour, and the electricity is out in the area (whether due to winds or rolling blackouts–it’s been a heck of an August all over–that’s also not tenable. If you’re carrying meds that have to be kept refrigerated, that’s also not negotiable.

        If OP was (say) prioritizing the milk not spoiling over risk to life, that was indeed a choice (and not a great one).

        But asserting that there are always better, safer choices? Nope.

      5. Lance*

        ‘The letter doesn’t say that the boss ordered OP to keep driving.’

        Doesn’t matter, really at all. The boss knew OP was driving, by OP’s saying so; that is where their focus should’ve been, not this weird demand of ‘video on and eye contact given, no matter the circumstances’.

      6. No bees on Typhon*

        She could have just not started driving in the first place!

        From the letter: “My boss told me to join in via Zoom while I drove. Okay. When I got in the car”

        So the order from the boss came before OP even got in the car! “No safe place to pull over” doesn’t make sense as an excuse when taking the call in your already-parked car is the clear best option

        1. whingedrinking*

          I’m extrapolating here, but the OP has stated that they’re on the spectrum, and being less sensitive to linguistic nuance is a common trait for many people with autism (and people without it, for that matter). So being told “take the meeting while you drive” could be interpreted by some people as “you *have* to drive while you take the meeting”.
          I can also appreciate how being flustered/panicked leads people to overlook the obvious, like “take meeting, *then* drive home” when you know you have to both take the meeting *and* drive home. I’m also non-neurotypical (ADHD ahoy!), and that’s how my brain feels all the time.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It scares the crap out of me, I would estimate that at least 75% of the drivers I see are on their cells while driving. It’s an epidemic. Some how we have a social pressure to answer our cells no matter what the cost. It’s up to us to create a different social pressure. Each one of us can do this by refusing to talk to someone while they are driving. Hang up and tell them why before you hang up. If it’s someone dear to you, you can say, “I love you and want you to stay alive so I am going to hang up. You can call me back when you are done driving.”

        Here in NYS you can get a ticket for holding ANY electronic device in your hand. It does not matter if it is the garage door opener, a camera, or a phone or a calculator.
        This is interesting because I have heard stories of people saying, “Yeah, I had my garage door opener in my hand. It was going to fall on the floor so I stopped it.”
        Here is a person who thinks that they have said something very clever, basically “proving it’s not a cell”. However, the law does not care that it was not a cell, and the person just admitted they were guilty of holding an electronic device while driving. Not so clever after all.

        Additionally, police have become very good at reading the body language of a person trying to hide the fact that they are texting or calling someone. People who are not operating a cell phone do not make those gestures.

      2. whingedrinking*

        I highly recommend Werner Herzog’s short documentary “From One Second to the Next”. It’s available on YouTube and if I’d ever had the impulse to text while driving, it stopped me dead from ever doing it.

    2. Lady Heather*

      Tom Scott has a 4.26-minute long youtube video titled “Is It Dangerous To Talk To A Camera While Driving?” where – in a driving simulator – he speeds, goes through red lights, and more when he’s trying to drive and film, at one point nearly crashing into a car he didn’t notice even though he was looking at it.

      I’m not a fan of people driving while on work calls in general – one of my parents did work calls while driving, and from the passenger seat, I noticed their driving style was way more aggressive when they were on a call (or after the call when they were still frustrated or distracted) – far sharper/rougher turns, speeding, approaching an intersection at full speed and then suddenly braking (rather than taking their foot off the speed pedal during approach so you slow down, and then brake), and more. It got worse when the call was more stressful, frustrated, or heated.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        There was recently a story on Yahoo News where a woman was live streaming on Facebook while driving, constantly looking into her phone’s camera, and was broad-sided by another vehicle. She later died. There’s no way in hell I would have kept driving. I would have either tried to find a place to pull over or hung up the phone and dealt with my manager’s hissy fit later.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Same here. I’ve lost count of how many times I called a candidate for a planned phone interview of 30-45 minutes, and they were behind the wheel. I told them we needed to reschedule because I wouldn’t conduct an interview when the road needed their attention. Usually I got a breezy, ‘Oh, I can talk and drive at the same time!’ in return. NO. This is an INTERVIEW, and it’s not safe for you to drive and give our meeting the attention it needs. I promised to email them to reschedule, and then said a quick ‘goodbye and drive safely.’

        It still amazes me that some people got snippy with me when I refused to conduct an interview while they were driving, but that just proves the OP’s boss isn’t alone in thinking distracted driving is no big deal – or even a real thing.

  3. Lilian*

    A boss risking your life for a completely pointless and stupid rule? No thank you, I think I’d quit over this.

    1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      I wouldn’t quit but I would refuse to do it. If she fired me over it I would make a big stink over it, because I believe in many jurisdictions it is actually illegal to look at video while driving. So your boss would have fired you because you refused to do something illegal! Even in a right-to-work state that’s not cool

      1. OP*

        I should have! (Lots of should haves on my part).

        My state is quite strict on phone-and-car laws.

        1. JJ*

          You should definitely not do this, but I would be soooooo tempted to “get pulled over for being on the phone” to guilt the boss.

        2. Amaranth*

          That might be something to put in your response arsenal if this craziness ever happens again – just say ‘but that’s illegal and if I crash the company could be sued.’

    2. Freddy Mac*

      +1. My brother was killed by a driver who was video chatting while driving. The OP was irresponsible and should not have done this. Full stop.

    3. Kares*

      This may be hyperbole, but it’s unhelpful. Not everyone can just quit a job. There are so many factors (income, savings, another job, etc.) that does not allow people to just quit.

      It was wrong and irresponsible of the boss to do and require eye contact. I would like to know why OP couldn’t pull over or off the road. I had this recently. I had to take someone to a must-be-there appointment. I arranged to use my phone and sat in the corner of a parking lot for a meeting.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I don’t understand why pulling over wasn’t an option, OP. You weren’t really being forced to drive in an unsafe manner. You chose to do that.

    1. He's just this guy, you know?*

      This was my first thought as well. I would really like to know why OP could not have simply pulled over.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Like, yeah, the boss is a jerk for requiring video and eye contact, but OP doesn’t seem to be taking any responsibility for the choice they made.

        1. Xavier Desmond*

          Agreed. I’m struggling to have much sympathy for the OP. She could have killed someone, ‘my manager told me to’ seems a crappy excuse.

    2. The New Normal*

      Panic is a real issue. OP had fear of repercussions from her boss for multiple reasons: if OP travels for work and was trying to make it back to the office to join the call because boss was telling them to get back ASAP, they are in between a rock and a hard place. If they were traveling to their next site but stopped for an hour on the side of the road, they’d miss the next appointment and boss would be angry about that. And sometimes when you are faced with a sudden and unexpectedly unreasonable demand, your brain does not work.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I didn’t get the impression OP was driving for work. They say “life happened” not “I was traveling between business appointments”.

        1. Annony*

          It did say they were driving back though and “My boss told me to join in via Zoom while I drove” which implies that they were expected to get back ASAP and join the meeting. If possible, it probably would have been better to take PTO for the day and skip the meeting.

          1. Soph*

            This. People are really piling on OP unfairly for not pulling over when I thought it was pretty easy to understand from the letter that pulling over was not an option, at least as far as their boss was concerned. I totally agree that this was a time for them to stand their ground and either pull over or not be on the call, but I also thought it was pretty clear from context that part of the crappy situation their boss was putting them in was insisting they drive back to the office ASAP, so pulling over would have put them in a similar situation where they were being “insubordinate” to their boss.

      2. CheeryO*

        I understand that feeling, but you have to be able to override it and either slow down and pull over, or just keep the app in driving mode and deal with the fallout later. If LW had hit someone, I don’t think “my brain wasn’t working” would have been the best excuse.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        You’re responsible for your own safety and the safety of others. OP is responsible to override the boss’s request to do something unsafe, and in my company culture, report that request up the chain. Panic might have been an initial excuse, but after 2 minutes of driving that way, recover and make a different decisions. An adult needs to do better than what was done here. Deal with the work fall out later. OP had many other choices that were not to keep driving unsafely.

        1. jenkins*

          Yeah. If you are in control of a speeding ton of metal, it’s abundantly clear that that’s your priority. I try to empathise, but holy crap this was not OK.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        I understand that and agree that panic can be overwhelming, but I do think it’s important that we are talking about a totally different category of harm than is normally discussed on this blog. Normally when we’re discussing bosses ordering you to do something you don’t want to do, the consequences don’t involve the pretty reasonable chance of killing someone, killing yourself, maybe killing multiple people. I think that takes this into a different category where “I panicked” or “I was going to miss an appointment and my boss would have yelled at me” just don’t hold as much weight as they normally do. I think the fact that driving is such a normal thing to do that people sometimes lose sight of how dangerous it can be, and how much of a responsibility drivers have to mitigate that danger by driving responsibly.

        If OP’s response to panic is to make decisions THIS bad, and they have a boss who is likely to make them panic again, I think that there are a lot of things she could do: methods for developing confidence/assertiveness might help in pushing back, but also things like calming/soothing techniques to try and help her stay calm under pressure, which may help with her decision-making including in lower-stakes situations. Maybe look into CBT or strategies for dealing with panic attacks. But I think it’s really, really important that if the OP is going to be in charge of a speeding ton of metal and has a boss who thinks it’s okay to distract her while doing that, she needs to find ways to help her brain work.

    3. Elbe*

      My guess is that, in the moment, the OP wasn’t thinking clearly and trying to make do seemed like a better option that trying to stand up to an unreasonable boss while driving.

      If it happens again, I would hope that OP would have the presence of mind to refuse the instruction, or pull over even if they would be late getting back to the office. But this boss is an absolute monster for making a subordinate choose between driving safely and rejecting a direct instruction from a manager during a global recession. That’s a ton of pressure to put on someone.

      1. ProcheinAmy*

        I agree! Now that it has happened once, she will be ready if it happens again. “OK, if that is a requirement, I will pull over, but that means I will be late returning and unable to x.”

        It would be illegal in some states to not be hands feee and against my company’s policy.

        1. Wintermute*

          You raise a very good point, every company I have ever worked for that had people travel for business had strict rules about distracted driving, the most elaborate was tied between an old job that had people travelling daily for their jobs in fleet vehicles (cell tower techs), and when I myself was working from the road as a field researcher for a university, but even the most minimal employee handbook I’ve ever had to sign has had a blanket statement against using anything but handsfree voice while driving, and even then it was discouraged unless in case of emergency.

          1. anon right now*

            As a matter of fact, many companies have distracted driving policies which prohibit taking a company-related call while driving. I’ve had to tell employees who volunteer to attend meetings via phone to NOT do so if they are driving, even hands free, as they would be violating company policy.

      2. Archie Goodwin*

        Yeah, that was my thought, too. The initial demand – about being on-video and making eye contact – is mind-scrambling enough that I can see it messing with the other parts of the thought process.

        Especially coming from the boss – there’s an added layer of pressure there that there wouldn’t otherwise be.

    4. Donkey Hotey*

      I do my best to have empathy for folks in crappy situations. AND I agree with you. Unless children’s absolute and literal lives were on the line, pulling over to take the call should be an option.

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      Aside from panic, my state’s got so much construction that there’s 20-mile stretches with no shoulders and no exits, and it can be *very* hard to get over in time to reach the exit. The only good thing about covid is that I don’t have to get on those for a while.

      I’d rather keep the focus on the part that we know is unreasonable, instead of second guessing the parts we don’t know enough about.

      1. yala*

        That’s what I was thinking. I do think panic is a reason–not necessarily an excuse, but an understandable reason. Suddenly being told to do something unreasonable (just the basic request, not even the bit about driving) can kind of short your brain sometimes. That’s something to work on, but still, I’d get it.

        But also, there aren’t always good places to pull over. I’ve definitely been in situations where I needed to stop but couldn’t find anywhere TO stop (and the shoulder of a road for a long period of time for anything aside from car trouble is dangerous as well).

        1. Jaybeetee*

          This. There is an area outside my city I’ve driven a number of times, where maybe it isn’t an hour with nowhere to pull over… but definitely 20-30 minutes of straight highway with no exits, and the pull-over options before and after that point would be “off-ramp and then the side of a road.” There are no gas stations or anything else immediately around that chunk of highway, you’d have to be familiar with the small towns a few minutes off those ramps to find one.

          I actually did go through this recently when someone was driving up from a city about 90 minutes away and we were looking for a “halfway point” to meet. That turned out to be a road shoulder from one of those off-ramps, because neither of us could think of anywhere with a parking lot for a good 30-40 kilometres of that highway.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          And crafting a good come-back or standing up for one’s self WHILE driving, is not everyone’s skill set. I have had my license for 40 plus years and there have been times where I could not concentrate on the conversation with my passengers because of heavy traffic, never mind have a good strong reply to defend myself.

          Additionally, as a passenger there have been times I had to help the driver navigate. I remember being a passenger in a vehicle that was leading a funeral procession up the Jersey Turnpike. We were doing between 90 and 95 mph (we were informed that this was too slow) and trying to keep dozens of cars with us as we flew along. The second passenger in the car was also helping with navigation.
          I still have nightmares.

          OP, I hope you take this as 100% supportive because that is how I mean it: This is no way on this green earth you should be doing a video meeting AND driving a car.
          I’d be tempted to remind her that if you have an accident that will probably be a comp claim. (Worker’s compensation insurance). Well, okay in reality keep this fact as card up your sleeve if nothing else works here.

      2. Threeve*

        Agree. I can think of several roads I’ve been on where pulling over isn’t a safe option for a solid 20-30 minutes. And this boss might have been found a 5-minute delay just as unacceptable as declining to use video.

        No point in speculating just to be able to spread the criticism around.

      3. The New Normal*

        It’s over 110°F where I live (unusually high at this time of year!) so it isn’t safe to just pull over and sit there for an hour. And there’s no indoor facilities open to the virus. So for me, pulling over wouldn’t be a safe option.

        1. Alice*

          Does your car’s AC work when in gear and not in park? I mean, if there’s no shoulder that’s one thing. But I honestly don’t understand what the temperature has to do with pulling over.
          Good luck staying cool!

          1. Anxious cat servant*

            My car (a 2014 so not old) has decent ac and I’m used to the heat and even so I can’t sit in my car, even with the ac running and in the shade of a parking garage, when the temperature is over 110. Put me in an unshaded lot and it drops to over 95. The ac simply isn’t good enough. My husband’s car has better ac but even so an unshaded lot can be unbearable during our summers.

      4. EHB*

        I understand all of this. You *still* have the responsiblity to make the choice that won’t potentially result in people dying. There was not a gun to OP’s head forcing her to do this, she had the option to choose responsbility, and she didn’t.

    6. Cranky Pants*

      This was my thought as well. Also curious if OP was driving on work related business. Or is working from home and did not plan personal business with enough time to get back for the call? If the later is the case I’m guessing that is why the boss was so insistent.

    7. Kristine*

      We don’t know what “life happened” meant for the OP. Maybe that meant, “My parent is laying in a hospital bed dying”. Maybe that meant, “If I don’t get to the bank immediately they’re going to foreclose on my house.” Maybe that meant, “Downed trees have fallen on my friend’s house and I need to go pick up them and their family from an unsafe situation” (this last one really did happen to my friend in Iowa last week). OP probably had a reason for not being able to pull over.

      1. Angela*

        To me, any of those situations would be ‘I’m not going to keep trying to work today, this is more important ‘or arrange to not be working for that timeframe.

        If OP was taking care of things during the workday when the boss expects things to be business as usual, however, and found they weren’t available for a meeting all of a sudden, I can see how the boss might be unhappy. Now, I’m NOT saying OP was doing anything unprofessional with their time, but I know there are people who have taken advantage of remote work to use daytime hours for a lot of personal things. It’s possible the boss was worried about this if they can’t monitor work activity in some way.

      2. Yorick*

        “Life happened” could also mean “I didn’t take traffic into account” or “I stopped to get Starbucks and the line was long.” OP used that phrase to talk about being late for the meeting, not why they were traveling.

    8. Angela*

      Part of me wonders if the boss meant ‘This is an important meeting you have to be paying attention to, so you should pull over” but was terrible about communicating, and assumed OP would pull over without saying it outright. It’s also likely other people on the call might’ve been worried/appalled, but wondering more about OP’s choices rather than the boss.

      1. Annnnnnnnn*

        I think the wording is also pretty vague. Did the boss tell her to multitask – be part of the meeting while driving? Or did the OP receive a text from the boss while she was driving? I really don’t understand why OP would assume the boss meant eye contact while driving even if she was flustered. Unless someone explicitly says “keep driving during the meeting” I feel like the obvious thing to do would be to pull over? At least I’d hope would have enough common sense to do that without being told to.

    9. Ominous Adversary*

      Lots of possibilities, but from ‘life happened’ and the boss being a demanding loon, I would guess a combination of problems with managing stress/setbacks on the OP’s part and the dysfunction that comes from being in a toxic workplace that erodes decision-making capabilities even for very well-adjusted people. That’s not an excuse, but I have known people with impaired ability to deal with setbacks tolerating ridiculous demands from others because they just didn’t have the skills or spoons to say “what the hell, this is a ridiculous request and I don’t have to do it”.

    10. Esmeralda*

      Cut the OP some slack, who btw says that they’re kicking themselves for not pushing back.

      Many of us have been in situations where we are so taken aback that we don’t do what we should have done, especially when it’s your boss and you might be concerned about keeping your job in the middle of the worst economic conditions since the 1930s.

      Don’t know if the OP is young/newer to work world — that can be a factor, both in not knowing what’s ok, and in having the experience of standing up to a boss.

      1. Wintermute*

        Spot on. I’ve talked about this before– we run scripts in our minds, we have inputs we expect, we give outputs we expect a given response. If you ask someone if they want coffee, you expect yes, or no, if they ask for tea instead it might throw you for a second but you probably still have context and can recover quickly. If they get in your face screaming that you must be part of the evil barista conspiracy and that coffee does not exist, you aren’t going to have a response ready for that and you’re going to freeze.

        the writer clearly didn’t have a mental script for what to do if his boss said ‘no’ to a reasonable request every reasonable and halfway logical person on the planet, and then some, would say ‘yes’ to. That’s not a personal failing.

        1. JSPA*


          There’s a considerable genetic component to how your CNS responds to stress hormones and signals.

          It’s been studied regarding susceptibility to anxiety and stress disorders, but likely also plays a role in whether you can pivot on a dime and not get thrown.

          If remaining calm and clear-headed under unanticipated pressure is something that’s easy for you (raises hand) it can be very hard to understand people who can’t instantly go to plan B, C…and Ω.

          But by the numbers, some 98% of the population is more susceptible to mind-clouding distress than I am. Telling them to “chill” or “think it through” (because that’s all it takes, for me) is probably not relevant to what’s going on in their brains under stress.

        2. MarkP*

          I literally got into a car accident once because I was rushing to pick up food during a shift. Minor scrape, we sorted it out quickly, but my boss was one of those people who didn’t think people should be taking lunch breaks (despite this being illegal) and I was terrified she was going to send me a Slack message while I was away from my desk.

          She was a gaslighting sociopath and I am eternally thankful she no longer works for my company. However, I doubt even SHE would order me to do something this reckless and dangerous. I did have to call in to a weekly meeting while driving once. Those meetings were pretty pointless for my role and started an hour before my shift, so I could pretty safely listen and not engage. She did ask me to say something at one point to prove I was actually listening, though.

        3. Blue*

          +10 Thank you for recognising that and putting it so neatly. It’s obvious that’s exactly what happened and I’m pretty sympathetic to it (especially as someone who, like OP, is not neurotypical).

      2. Dr. R*

        I know my decision making capacities are very limited when I’m stressed or shocked by something. In hind site “pull over or hang up the phone” might seem obvious, but it’s not always so obvious when you are in the middle of tense situations.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +100 to this. We don’t know why OP believed they could not pull over. Maybe the boss insisted that they get back to the office as soon as possible. Maybe OP was driving through a literal desert and stopping would not have been safe. Maybe the boss said to make googly eyes at the camera when OP was five minutes into the drive, and by then, it was 50 miles to the nearest exit or a nearest shoulder wide enough to pull off to. We don’t know what we don’t know.

    11. TootsNYC*

      I think that decision-making is impaired when there is a lot going on mentally, both in terms of stimulus coming in, and micro-decisions being made.

      So she’s driving (she has to keep driving, at least for a little while);
      she’s on the call;
      her boss is pressuring her;

      I once did something stupid and ill-thought-out while driving on an unfamiliar divided highway that was REALLY crowded and really fast. My 2yo threw up on herself in the carseat in the back.
      Later I realized I SHOULD have just let her sit in it until we got to a safe place to get off. We didn’t know when that would come, though, and we panicked and pulled over to the narrow, narrow nearly nonexistent shoulder to take her out and clean her off. It was scary and dangerous, with heavy traffic whizzing by in the very next lane and by the time I realized what a stupid decision it was, I couldn’t undo it.

      I have a lot more sympathy for the kind of brain overload that would lead to someone not thinking of a more sensible solution. We’re all conditioned to cope with whatever is in front of us, instead of rethinking certain assumptions.

      Going forward, I think that ALL of us can use this story to have a rule for ourselves that we do not use the phone, not even just the speaker, when we are driving; we pull over at the first opportunity.
      Once you install this rule in your head, it’s easier to access it in a pinch.
      I’m betting the OP just hasn’t had that rule.

  5. KoolMan*

    WTF WTF WTF WTF !! Your manager sucks !! Means you getting into an accident is of no issue for her ?? Secondly why didn’t you stop your car in a safe place, while taking the call ? Or wasn’t that an option available to you ?

  6. Keymaster of Gozer*

    ‘Sure boss, I’ll give you a lovely close up video shot of face and eyes….of the police when they pull me over for dangerous driving’

    I’m a survivor of a serious car crash that was due to the lorry driver not paying attention to the road because he was on his phone and your boss ordering you to drive like that is seriously, seriously, horrifying to me.

    (Possibly the most horrifying thing I’ve read on this site to date)

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      A very dear friend of mind is a widow because a driver RAN OVER her husband while texting.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Partly why I have my phone in my bag when I’m driving. I won’t put my life or others in danger, no matter who phones or texts or how urgent it is. The memory of that lorry smashing at motorway speeds into my car haunts me to this day.

        And my deepest sympathies to your friend. That’s a horrific experience.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Additionally, OP, try thinking of it this way: if you had caused an accident while your attention wasn’t on the road, do you think the police would accept ‘my boss told me to use my phone while driving’?

      No. You’d be at fault, not your boss. You did still choose to drive dangerously and that’s all they’ll see.

      1. EHB*

        Yeah, I understand the pressure but OP cannot dodge that they consciously made a mistake that only by the grace of god wasn’t fatal.

        1. Arvolin*

          Folks, this is NOT USEFUL. You’re sitting in front of your keyboards in reasonably safe places. You know what? It’s real easy to get moralistic in situations like that, and it’s never helpful. It’s really, really easy to tell someone else what they should have done, when you don’t even know all the circumstances.
          I suspect almost all of us have made some really dumb decisions under pressure. Lots of us have at least been lucky enough to place us in less dire circumstances, but luck isn’t a moral virtue. We don’t know LW. We don’t know LW’s workplace.
          Nor does this tell LW anything LW doesn’t know already.
          Nor does it encourage people to write in to say “I really screwed up, and here’s the situation now.”

    1. MarsJenkar*

      I would be interested to know in what state(s), if any, this would be legal. Any states that do have a gaping hole in their dangerous driving laws.

        1. AKchic*

          Yep, we can’t text and drive in Anchorage, but videochat? Sure, that’s not illegal. Neither is watching a *movie* while you drive (you have no idea how many people watch “adult” videos while driving the highway).

          You’d think with snow, ice and *moose* wandering across the roads, one just might want to pay attention, especially during the winter when we have very little daylight, but nope. We Alaskans are very cavalier about safety.

        2. Lindsay in Idaho*

          Idaho laws that forbid driving with phones out went into effect within the past couple of months. Now it is basically illegal to be touching your phone while you are driving – even if stopped at a light.

          So OP wouldn’t even have been allowed to do this in Idaho.

      1. londonedit*

        Super illegal where I live, too (UK) and socially speaking pretty much almost up there on a par with drink-driving in terms of how unacceptable it is.

        1. Alex (UK)*

          That’s sadly not the case everywhere in the UK – I know far too many people who would never dream of drink driving, yet being on the phone whilst driving is de rigeur for them. At a previous job, I used to walk to work and in the 30 minute walk I could usually count at least 10 drivers who were on their phones – either explicitly holding their phone to their ear, or surreptitiously texting/using their phone in their lap. One day I took down the license plates of every car doing it (and photographs, where I could) and submitted the info to the police, but they told me they couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything with it. Which was infuriating.

          Personally, I keep my phone in my handbag on the passenger seat/in the footwell when I’m driving; unless I’m using the phone gps in which case that is it’s only function and all other notifications are turned off.

  7. Mystery Bookworm*

    I want to acknowledge how difficult it can be to stand-up to authority in the moment — especially with someone who makes you second-guess your instincts.

    But this is also a case where you have to ask yourself: would I get on this call if I knew it would result in an accident? The answer is almost certainly no. And no job would be worth harming yourself or someone else for the sake of a video call.

    1. JJ*

      Yeah, even in a situation this crazy it’s easy to see how OP got pressured into this, sounds like the boss used a fun combo of bullying and gaslighting, plus OP was out dealing with whatever life thing was going on. It can be hard to push back, especially as a people-pleaser! At least now you can be prepared for next time, now that you know what you should have done (sounds like you realized it right after you got off the call and had a moment to think). Your boss is a jeeeeerk.

  8. Anon234*

    Agree that this is terrible.
    But I also think that pulling over and being safe was an option here. For that, you can’t blame your boss.

    As someone who lost a friend to « distracted driving » I have zero patience for people who even use hands-free when they’re driving. It’s been proven to be unsafe.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      The boss was wrong for requiring this kind of strict eye contact/participation knowing that OP couldn’t comply safely. It’s possible this boss thought pulling over would be an option and if that’s the case, the boss certainly should have advised OP to do so as soon as it became obvious the OP was trying to multitask. It’s also possible the boss is so unreasonable that refusing to participate in the meeting regardless of OP’s safety would be grounds for firing the OP.

      But OP really should have pulled over ASAP or, if that was not possible, said “I can’t attend the meeting under those conditions because there is no option to pull over right now and I can’t drive safely or legally if I’m looking at a screen. I will join as soon as I can do so safely.” I mean, it was over an HOUR of driving distracted. Safety should have been the highest priority for at least OP.

  9. Lynn*

    Also — I think I remember from an intro to law class (many years ago), that when you are driving for official company business, even if in your own vehicle, that the company would be liable for any damage to you or that you cause (basically like an on-the-job-injury). I’m not sure if that relates to LW (it’s not clear why they had to travel during the workday) but sometimes legalities are the only thing that unreasonable people (which OP’s boss 100% is) respond to and it would be good to be familiar with that area of unemployment law in your state to help defend yourself from unreasonable demands

    1. Sharon*

      If the LW had an accident while driving on a video call because her boss instructed her to, you better believe the company is going to get hit with a huge lawsuit. For liability reasons alone this is a terrible idea.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yes. Using the phone while driving, without a hands-free device, was specifically called out by our corporate training programs as an example of illegal activity that could bring about disciplinary action.

    3. Diahann Carroll*

      That’s not unemployment law – that falls under a company’s commercial business auto policy. If someone is engaged in official work business and ends up in a car accident, the company could be held liable even if the vehicle itself is not an insured auto under the policy unless said policy has certain exclusions in place.

      1. Wintermute*

        as someone in the insurance field, spot on. Though even if the work’s insurance takes the vehicle damage hit, that’s no protection for the LW from the reckless driving, reckless endangerment, or even, God forbid, automotive homicide, criminal charges, or any lawsuits resulting from them.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup – OP could still very much end up carrying the weight of the damages, especially any punitive damages, which many liability policies do not cover.

    4. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

      From an unemployment standpoint (rather than liability in case of accident), you can definitely collect UI if you’re fired for refusing to do something illegal, not to mention horrifically dangerous. Some places will even cover instances where they were asked to do something unethical but not entirely illegal.

  10. ZSD*

    It sounds like this was a meeting with more than just the OP and the boss. Why didn’t others on the call speak up to support the OP? I would have said, “OP is right; she should just turn off her video and listen in.”

    1. CheeryO*

      My thoughts exactly. If I saw a peer calling in to a video meeting while driving, it would make me uncomfortable to the point that I’d have to say something. No meeting is worth that.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I would have as well, but if this was a team call and OP’s afraid of the manager, what makes you think the rest of the team isn’t as well?

      1. pbnj*

        Yeah, something’s definitely off with this company if they’re all frozen with fear. Might be time to move on to a new company if they are able.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, a boss monstrous enough to demand this probably has everyone terrified into silence.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Let us all use this letter as a reminder that WE should be the ones who speak up in any situation remotely resembling this.

    4. Morning reader*

      I’m wondering if it might have looked like OP was riding in the car. Otherwise it seems like at least one person might have said omg are you driving right now?

    5. Actual Vampire*

      I’ve had video meetings with people who were passengers in cars. You actually can’t really tell the difference between a passenger and a driver on Zoom. If I saw someone in a car on a Zoom car, I would assume they were a passenger – I would never in a million years think they were driving.

  11. greased up weasel*

    This makes me so enraged.

    I had a boss who did something similar – I worked a mobile-based role with lots of driving around as part of it. He *INSISTED* I pick up the phone when he called, no matter what. A couple things;
    1) Most of what he needed wasn’t urgent, he just wanted to quickly respond to impress HIS boss
    2) Most of the stuff he wanted I had documented and put on the shared drive and told him where to find it. He could easily get to it, he was too lazy to do so.
    3) I have some issues that mean I have instability in my hands and feet. I don’t like to talk and drive. I don’t text and drive. I need full focus to drive and stay safe.

    It was frustrating af. One time I missed a call because I was 3 minutes from the office – literally around the corner. I came in and got shouted at for not picking up – I explained I was around the corner, but he insisted I pick up every time. I told him I don’t like to talk and drive – he said I have to pull over and call him back right away then. (Which is unrealistic when you’re mobile, on a schedule, trying to get from site to site before a meeting with the client or a vendor, and driving on highways/tollways most of the time – I’m not pulling over on a highway for a phone call.)

    And he wondered why I lost all motivation and ultimately left.

    1. Drew*

      “I did pull over. In our parking lot. Which I was AROUND THE CORNER from.”

      Sometimes I come here just to feel better about my bosses who are merely a regular level of unreasonable and only some of the time. None of them, even the one who uses his commute for all the phone calls where he wants to yell at clients so he’s not yelling in the office, would think twice about “I’m driving so I won’t be on video.”

  12. Dr. Doll*

    Wooooooowwwwww. Your manager is — how else does she suck? Because not understanding that life happens led to a dangerous, illegal situation! Is she this irrational all the time?

    I wish you’d pulled over, though. I know it’s hot, but. “Sorry Karen, I’m driving and I’ll call in in five minutes when I can safely pull over.”

  13. Ross*

    Wow. If I put video on while driving a car, I would likely be fired, or at best severely disciplined. If a manager asked someone to do this at my company, I would expect they’d quickly be shown the door. That’s just unbelievable. Now, I work in the passenger transportation industry where safety is an enormous focus, particularly mobile device usage. It is a particular concern among our front end employees operating vehicles, but there is a zero tolerance policy regardless of where you are in the organization. I’ve spent almost my entire career in various aspects of transportation, so this just astounds me. Does your company not have any policies regarding mobile device usage (such as when driving a company car or rental vehicle)? I suppose smaller companies may not – but I might start by researching policies that do exist. If one does, it might be easier to refuse by saying, ‘I’d like to, but our company policy specifically prohibits handheld device usage while driving.’

    1. No Regerts*

      If I even take a phone call while driving a car during my work day, I can be fired. It was annoying when they rolled the policy out… but it’s really so much safer.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        If you’re fired for refusing to do something illegal, you’re definitely eligible for unemployment and could possibly sue. This is one time for hard-stop principles; you could have run over a child.

    2. OP*

      I’ve noticed video driving is a thing with this company. I’ve seen it more than once in the . month I’ve been here. True, the rest seem to have a place to attach the phone.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        Time to cut bait on this place if at all possible. There’s no way this is the only insane and illegal thing this employer does.

        1. OP*

          I am actively looking. My field is currently desperate in my area for workers, so I’m low-risk on job hunt difficulties.

          1. allathian*

            Good luck with your job search!

            I don’t want to pile on you, but I’m incensed at your boss on your behalf. She should be fired for asking you to put your life and the lives of other people on the road in danger.

            I’m neurotypical and I’ve never had a reason to suspect otherwise, but I would definitely zone out internally if I had to maintain eye contact with a video camera for the sake of appearances.

            I can’t even listen to a podcast while driving, so I can’t imagine trying to focus on a phone call, never mind a meeting. I do listen to music, but when I focus on driving, I’m very rarely even aware of the music.

      2. Claire Bee*

        Is there an HR department you can report your manager to? I’d hope they care. If not, I’d probably want to call the non-emergency line and report them to the authorities. Idk if that would lead to any action but I just want someone to stop this practice!

        Or do a burner account and blast them on twitter. Or have a friend do it. Haha. Maybe public shame would stop it. I’m trying to think of any and all options!

      3. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Well, I was going to suggest you call your company’s anonymous ethics hotline and report that you were instructed to drive with video on…but it sounds like they probably wouldn’t care. I’m sorry you were in that situation, OP.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        You need to either start looking for a different job or SERIOUSLY start working on learning to say no if you are asked to do this again. It was bad enough when it seemed like this was a one-off, but you abolutely cannot do it again. It doesn’t matter if it’s a “thing” or if other people are doing it too. It’s not okay.

        Some phrases you could try practicing, to help you get more confident saying them in the moment (adapt a necessary obviously):

        – “I need to hang up, I’m driving – I’ll call back once I’ve pulled over”
        – “I can’t join the call until I’ve pulled over.”
        – “I’ll dial in as soon as I’ve pulled over.”
        – “It isn’t safe for me to be on the call while driving.”
        – “I’m losing signal psssst fzzzshhhhhht oh no can’t hear you czshhhhhht fshhhhhhhhhhght will call you back when I have signal” (joking but also kind of not joking?)

      5. Jennifer Thneed*

        It does not matter that those people have a gizmo to hold their phone, what they’re doing is SO unsafe that it is actually illegal. I mean, texting while driving is illegal (everywhere I hope) solely BECAUSE it requires the driver to take their eyes off the road. What they are doing is unsafe and WRONG. And maybe they are always parked during the meetings but I’ll bet not. Please mention this to your HR department! If the company is big enough to have lawyers, mention it to them. Seriously, if people’s managers are stupid enough to allow this to happen, someone should be informed now, before anyone is hurt or killed.

    3. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

      This is the situation at my company as well. We’re not even allowed on hands-free voice calls if we’re driving. A meeting with visuals or being on camera? No way.

    4. emmelemm*

      Yeah, I’m curious that Alison’s advice didn’t include going over boss’s head to HR or boss’s boss. Boss needs to be told that they cannot issue this as an order.

    1. Lurking Tom*

      My first thought as well! “Boss wants me to endanger my life to satisfy her weird need to be certain that I am paying attention” is pretty awful bossing!

      1. Xantar*

        And if that’s not enough, the boss also endangered the entire company. She exposed them to enormous liability if something had happened. I’m starting to think LW might have a responsibility to report this higher up the chain.

  14. Kimmybear*

    My office has a policy in the employee handbook that basically says not to drive while on the phone at all. I doubt that is common. OP, does your company have a policy? Could you suggest that it be added to the employee handbook?

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Our policy handbook does as well, and we span three jurisdictions with very different laws on phone use while driving – company policy goes even more restrictive than the most restrictive law. I would, despite a spotless service record for a number of years, be fired for insisting one of my folks unsafely join a video call from the road and maintain video/eye contact as if they were at a sit-down desk. It put OP at risk, it put others on the road at risk, it put the company at (liability) risk.

      And, all that aside, it’s also stupid to have the “maintain eye contact” requirement for a video meeting. My camera eye is located at the top of my laptop screen, and, if I spend the whole meeting staring into the camera (what looks like “eye contact”), I miss half of what’s happening on the actual screen.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        company policy goes even more restrictive than the most restrictive law

        This could be due to insurance requirements.

  15. Magee*

    What can the employee do now after the fact? Is this something they should bring up again with their boss. Should they go immediately to their grandboss? Would going to HR be an appropriate move?

    1. Phony Genius*

      It would be where I work. We have a policy that if you know somebody at the other end of your call is driving, you have to end the call. This would have been a violation of that policy.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That, and I’d recommend risk analysis of this happening again and for OP to be sure they’d reject the call before getting behind the wheel of a car. Keep phone in a place inaccessible to the driver while driving maybe so there’s zero chance of dangerous driving?

      (I keep my phone by my walking stick on the passenger side of my car for instance. There’s no way on god’s green earth I’m taking a call while driving)

    3. DoubleE*

      I bet HR would be interested to hear about this. If the OP had gotten into an accident, the fact that her boss was pressuring her to drive distracted might open her employer up to some liability. If this is something the boss has done before or might do again, I’d think the company would want to address it.

      1. pbnj*

        Agreed. Reporting it to HR or an ethics officer would be the best action after the fact. And hopefully some of her coworkers were on the call when their boss insisted on her video conferencing while driving. They need to know that the manager bullied someone into doing illegal and unsafe things, and take appropriate action.

        1. MJ*

          Reporting it also stops future she/he said – he/she said. You don’t want the boss to be able to deny it, which no doubt they would do if the worst happened. Bosses like that only watch their own back and not care about anyone else’s.

    4. Diahann Carroll*

      It depends. If OP’s grandboss isn’t equally as awful as her direct manager and she trusts grandboss can be discreet, it would make sense to bring this up with her as something that deeply concerned the OP. OP can even say that she’s not necessarily looking for her boss to be disciplined, but maybe suggest to grandboss that there needs to be a formal policy communicated to the team at large that if someone is driving during a meeting, they should not be doing a video call. Audio-only is fine if they can manage it without becoming distracted. If they cannot, then they should be excused from the call.

    5. TootsNYC*

      If I were the OP, my worry would be that complaining about it would get ME fired.

      We’ve seen how everyone here is jumping on the OP for not having the mental bandwidth, under pressure, to pull over. Her HR folks and grandboss folks are going to say the same thing.

    6. Quinalla*

      At the very least, get comfortable with defying authority in a dangerous situation like this for the future. I’d also make sure to cancel/reschedule meetings in the future with boss if I knew I’d be driving since boss is unreasonable.

      I would definitely take this to HR/boss of my boss/etc. if I thought it would do any good. I would probably confront my boss in this situation soon after the fact honestly, but I know not everyone can do that.

    7. Moo*

      I think OP (and us all) should practice a response to reasonable demands. When I started my career I was very authority pleasing, and I’ve learned some things over time. One of the most useful techniques, I find, is to treat the outrageous request as a joke at first – in some cases that jolts the askee to the ridiculousness of what they’re asking. If they persist it gives you a spare few moments to consider your reaction. For a real example: boss man gave me his credit card details to book something, and there was a problem. When I reported the problem, boss man said that I should call his credit card provider pretending to be him (him: older man, me: younger woman) and find out what the problem was. I laughed. He said he was serious. I said ‘no, I’m not going to do that’. He said I could insist I was him and they wouldn’t be allowed to question the apparent gender difference. It was only when I pointed out that I didn’t know his dob, address, mothers maiden name or any of the many other questions the bank would surely ask me for verification… I didn’t even get to the point of saying it would be fraud (my brain hadn’t made it there yet). I do think the few seconds of ‘that must be a joke’ bought me enough time to think of the other actual problems. This guy had a habit of calling, demanding something and hanging up immediately, so if I hadn’t bought the time by laughing, I might have “agreed” to the task.

      I’ve used it a couple of times since and it has helped. I’m sure there are other strategies. There’s lots of studies, some mentioned here, that simultaneously doing two simple tasks dramatically increases the cognitive load and speed of response. Which is why everyone is rightly horrified by the OP driving while on the call, but its also probably why the OP couldn’t figure out how to address the problem in the moment either, and made a bad call. That’s why scripts and practising are useful. You probably won’t have the exact same scenario again, but you will likely experience ‘unreasonable request from boss’ again in your career, and having some practised responses will help you in those moments that seem to spin by so fast.

  16. Mel_05*

    I don’t know the OP’s situation, but country roads and many highways really don’t allow people to pull the the side safely for extended periods of time. And in less populated areas, they also don’t have businesses that the OP could easily pull into.

    But, this was a crazy dangerous thing to do. It’s good to be comfortable saying, “I can’t do that, it’s illegal” because then in a situation like this you’re not caught off guard.

    1. Observer*

      but country roads and many highways really don’t allow people to pull the the side safely for extended periods of time. And in less populated areas, they also don’t have businesses that the OP could easily pull into.

      And this is surprisingly common. I’ve been on roads where pulling over to the side for more than a few minutes would be dangerous or impossible. And I haven’t even done that much traveling.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Agreed. I’m actually a little surprised at all the ‘just pull over!’, since my experience (lots of driving US east coast, FL – NYC) is that there’s often long stretches of road where pulling over is hard, especially in construction season. In my area, there’s currently two 20+ stretches where you can’t pull over at all – no shoulder, no exits. I hate driving them a lot.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      A few years ago someone pulled over to make a call and didn’t look where they were going and drove their monster truck pretty much through my husband’s Jetta. Thankfully through the BACK half of the car, and there was no one in the back seat.

  17. Unfettered scientist*

    It’s unclear to me why the OP HAD to continue driving. My response really depends on what ‘had to travel during the workday’ means. If there was an emergency, that’s one thing and I probably would have feigned ignorance “oh my zoom switches automatically into car mode and I can’t seem to figure out how to turn it off, and of course we wouldn’t want me to be distracted while driving!” But if this was a case of “we had a scheduled meeting, but I decided I needed to go out and get groceries right then” well… that’s quite different and suggests the employee has poor judgement and planning abilities.

    1. Kimmybear*

      I assume that it was more along the line of sick child at daycare, family member in the hospital, have to pick up this prescription before the pharmacy closes. Of course those have all happened to me recently so when someone says they “have to go out”, I assume they really do.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        But it sounded like OP was on the way back when the call happened.

        The back story is that I had to travel during the workday. Life happened, and I was not able to get back in time for a meeting.

        It’s vague enough that it doesn’t really tell us much of anything. Was OP supposed to attend this meeting in person? Was it always a Zoom meeting? Was OP’s travel work related or personal?

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I honestly don’t know that any of those questions matter. Even if the reason an employee is missing a meeting is their own irresponsible behavior (I’m not in any way saying I believe this about OP, FYI), a good boss still doesn’t insist that the person join a video chat while they’re driving.

          The only bit of OP’s behavior that matters here is not finding a place to park for the duration of the meeting, but as other people have mentioned, there may have been reasons that wasn’t possible. Nothing else about the reason OP was on the road is relevant to this.

        2. JJ*

          OP mentioned that she was on the call for “over an hour” (i.e., also driving that long) so I took it to mean some out-of-town family thing happened. Unless OP lives in a very, very rural place, it seems unlikely that errands would take her this far away from home.

    2. Annony*

      I do think those are two separate issues though. Whether not making it back before the meeting was avoidable or not, once in that situation it is not ok to insist that they use video chat while driving. Any poor judgement that led to them missing the meeting should be addressed after they get back.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        Yes I 100% agree that it was uncalled for to insist an employee look at their phone while driving. The boss was totally wrong there, no doubt. They aren’t writing in though. The employee made a decision to keep going and did some REALLY unsafe driving, which is inexcusable. I live in the Boston area and I see distracted drivers all the time. Both boss and employee have made serious errors here.

        1. Arvolin*

          The boss made the error while presumably in a safe place, and insisted on making the situation far more dangerous than it had to be. The employee made the error while being yelled at and likely threatened, and may well have been overstressed in the first place. Being on the autism spectrum also can impede being able to make a good snap decision under pressure.
          I’m blaming the boss.

    3. WellRed*

      No matter the reason, she shouldn’t have done this. It really doesn’t matter why she was traveling.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That’s the view I take: there’s literally no excuse possible for driving while using the phone if it’s taking your attention off the road for even a few seconds.

        If there’s nowhere to pull over, you don’t take the call. I’m sorry for such a hardline view but I nearly died because of a lorry driver who used his phone.

  18. Person from the Resume*

    Your boss sucks. She should have allowed you to participate without video and eye contact if you were actually needed to participate in the meeting by talking then at least let you treat it as a teleconference. Or just listen if that’s possible.

    Your boss sounds unreasonable and is probably hard to refuse but you do need to stand up to her bullying when she’s telling you to endanger yourself and others.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes, this is so insane that I seriously doubt there aren’t other ways in which this boss is terrible at her job ( micromanaging and general narcissism come to mind).

  19. Jenny*

    I have to disagree here with both the OP and Alison’s answer. The manager did not ‘put your life at risk, and the lives of other people on the road’, you did, and yes, it is reprehensible. She did not make you do it. You could have pulled over, or if that was not possible, you could simply have refused. There is no situation in which this would have been impossible.

    1. Colette*

      Refusing an order from your boss is not necessarily simple. I agree the OP should have pulled over, but understand why it would have been a difficult situation. Most people rely on their jobs so they can pay for food and housing.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        So you are saying the OP’s job is more important than the other’s people’s lives on the road?

        Would you give the OP a pass if their boss ‘made’ them drink before driving?

        1. Observer*

          No, they are saying that between the shock of having such a ridiculous demand being and the stress of NEEDING the job, in the moment judgement and ability to respond appropriately can be clouded.

          It’s pretty clear that this played a role here – the OP explicitly says that they are kicking themselves for going along with it.

          1. SomebodyElse*

            And that could be a good explanation, but it’s not an excuse. Which is what I got out of the letter, my boss made me do it and it’s all their fault.

            It’s not all the boss’ fault. The OP was the driver responsible for their actions in this situation. And I would highly encourage them to develop some boundaries in their work life. I would also encourage them to examine the decision points along the way that led up to this.

            1. Not leaving early enough to reach the destination
            2. When apparent that destination couldn’t be reached in time planning an alternative stopping point
            3. Not calling the boss ahead of time to let them know they were running late
            4. When boss demanded that they switch to video not telling them they would rejoin when in a safe spot.

            I think the manager was an idiot in this situation, but the OP in my opinion was just as bad and now wants someone to blame for their own actions.

            1. Hallowflame*

              My takeaway from the letter wasn’t that OP is laying all of the blame at the manager’s feet, but rather that OP wanted a judgement on whether the manager’s request was reasonable, and if not, how best to deal with such an unreasonable request in future. OP clearly states, both in the letter and in comments, that they take full responsibility for their role in creating unsafe road conditions so to come at them so hard seems unnecessary.

          2. Alice*

            If we’re reading closely, OP is kicking herself for not standing up for herself. I hope that she realizes the danger was not only to herself but also to everyone else on or near the road.
            Similarly, OP mentions that she didn’t have a dash mount, as if having one would have improved the situation. OP, please don’t think that a dash mount would have made talking on the phone AND LOOKING IN TO THE CAMERA safer. Indeed, studies show that just engaging in a conversation on the phone is more distracting than listening to the radio or having a conversation with a passenger.
            I hope OP is always as lucky as she was in this case.

            1. TootsNYC*

              hell, I find a conversation with a passenger to be distracting enough to be dangerous in many situations.

              1. Alice*

                Apparently in the study (studies? I’m not sure) they found that adult passengers in the front seat tend to pause when the driver’s approaching a “difficult” task, like a complicated intersection. Someone on the phone doesn’t have that context, obviously, and would keep going. Alternatively, the radio was easier for drivers to “tune out” than a live person was.
                But I’m sure your mileage will vary (hah!) with different passengers and conditions.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      I’m going to agree with you on this one. Many times I’ve been on the road (long trips between sites) and if I know I have a meeting to attend, I time it so that I can plan a spot to stop, even for a voice only call.

      The OP was the driver and ultimately responsible for their actions, if they would have been in an accident “My boss made me do it” would not be an excuse.

      1. Angela*

        Yup. If it’s a planned call and you can’t make it back somewhere in time, then the next best thing is planning to stop at a gas station / parking lot at that time so you can get the meeting out of the way before getting back on the road. I’m thinking something personal came up during a lunch break or during business hours, took longer than expected, and figured going audio only on the meeting would be okay.

    3. Sue*

      I agree and in Court, “my boss made me do it” would not be a defense. The OP would be 100% responsible for any traffic charges although I think civil liability, if there had been an accident might be pretty murky. The company could be held liable since she was working while on the call.

    4. Angela*

      I’m thinking the boss might have expected OP to plan around the meeting and being fully present, but was unhappy to see how OP was dealing with it, and assumed they would pull over for the call once prompted. It’s possible the boss didn’t even think OP would keep driving while doing so, since that wouldn’t be the first thing people assume. (But there are terrible bosses out there…)

      1. Batty Twerp*

        The call was over an hour. Since the boss insisted on it being a video call with eye contact (ugh), the boss would have realised OP was still driving (noise, lighting changes, angle of the camera).
        It might have been the initial assumption, but *an hour* of driving would have made that obvious enough to debunk that assumption and for boss and/or OP to do something about it.
        And this is where I come down on the side against the boss. Yes, OP did something reckless and stupid and she does deserve the berating she’s getting from the commentary. But her boss DID NOT STOP THE MEETING when it must have become apparent that OP was doing something reckless.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          See and I’m wondering that the OP couldn’t have pulled over somewhere in that hour? Really, they didn’t pass a gas station, rest stop, truck stop or anything in that hour?

          I’ve driven a lot in my lifetime and there are very few roads in this country that are that desolate that there wasn’t an opportunity for the OP… and chances are if they were in a place that desolate, there wouldn’t be enough service to take a zoom call at all.

          1. Observer*

            That’s quite possible. BTDT.

            And either way, the boss should have realized what’s going on and stopped the meeting.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah, if I saw someone driving on a video call, I’d be shouting at everyone involved in the phonecall at that point. It would be a lot of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! This isn’t a safe situation!” it was a group video call, so I’m shivering that between the OP and the boss, nobody else spoke up either. So everyone in this situation is buying into the dangerous decision that happened.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            This is what makes me worry about what other unreasonable and possibly abusive tendencies this boss may have. If there were other people present at that meeting who didn’t feel comfortable pushing back against this, It’s incredibly likely that this boss is terrible in A LOT of ways.

    5. Threeve*

      The productive answer to “I’m kicking myself” is not “yes, but I’m going to kick you more.”

      1. D3*

        THIS. Thank you, Threeve, for saying this.
        OP gets this, and is already feeling regret. You’re just piling on and being unkind, Jenny.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup, especially when it sounds like the boss is a loon. No one else on the call spoke up about how unsafe this situation was, either, so I don’t blame the OP for freezing in the moment and just complying.

  20. londonedit*

    Seriously! This person’s boss is actively telling them to break the actual law, not to mention putting them and everyone around them in danger. Would love to know whether the company would pay the fine when OP is pulled over for driving while using a handheld phone.

  21. Long Time Lurker*

    While this is extremely dangerous, where you traveling for work? or traveling for personal? While this should not have happened is there a reason your boss was annoyed and wanted you to be on video?

    Like I said, extremely dangerous and this is not okay, but I feel like we are missing part of the story….

    1. Observer*

      What difference does it make? There is no possible context in which it’s acceptable to tell someone to keep driving while holding a phone and looking at it periodically.

      1. Long Time Lurker*

        Because if it was for personal reasons, etc. They should have used some pto time to make this run that they needed and just missed the meeting completely.

        1. Observer*

          Really? So the fact that the OP didn’t “use some PTO time” makes it ok for the boss to tell them to join the call with “frequent eye contact” WHILE THE ARE DRIVING?

          What the OP should have done does not in any way excuse the boss.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      OP says ‘traveling for work’ and ‘life happened so I didn’t make it back for the meeting’. I’m assuming the work errand took longer than expected.

      1. Bertha*

        The Op says “travel during the workday”.. NOT traveling for work. It seems to me they are trying to subtly imply that it was not work-related without blatantly saying it.

    3. boop the first*

      True, I assumed at first it was work travel, but perhaps if it was, they would have specified as extra defense against their own culpability. They DID specify driving this way for an entire *hour*, which is mindboggling… so if this was sudden personal travel, OP should really have just taken the whole day. Being the equivalent of two+ hours late to work is my literal nightmare.

    4. Quinalla*

      Either way, while I can see a boss being annoyed at being told someone is driving when they weren’t expecting that, the response isn’t well get on video while you are driving! That is a ridiculous response. The OP could have made better choices for sure, but the boss was out of line.

  22. Dadolwch*

    OP should let their HR department know. This has to at least be an OSHA violation, and as OP was driving for work, that makes the business liable for any injuries or damages incurred as a result. This is a heinous abuse of power and needs to be addressed before someone actually dies.

    1. Scourge of Incompetent Management*

      I’m not sure that would be prudent. If the company has a policy against this, OP would be in jeopardy of being fired himself/herself, in addition to any disciplinary action taken against the manager. I don’t know that I’d want to take my chances in court with a “But my boss told me to!” strategy in contesting the firing if that happened.

    2. animaniactoo*

      They weren’t necessarily driving for work, but they were definitely video-conferencing for work, which makes it a work situation even if they weren’t driving for work, since they were being advised on what was required despite the circumstances they were in.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and many companies will have a policy that you are not to do this, and they might just flat-out fire her. Because few of us are making excuses for her, so her HR team won’t either.

  23. Free Meerkats*

    Accepting for some reason the OP couldn’t just pull over or simply refuse – because safety – the best option in my mind would have been at some point to yell an expletives and toss the phone in the passenger footwell.

    “Sorry boss, had to take evasive action and can’t stop to retrieve phone.” Or maybe utter the expletive and turn my phone off and let them worry…

    1. pbnj*

      I mean, honestly, it might not be a bad idea to “whoops I dropped the phone”, if you can’t stand up to your boss without getting penalized.

  24. Steveo*

    You have a horrible boss, but if you caused an accident or god-forbid, hit someone, you are responsible and liable for your own actions. It’s a bad situation but if you are asked to do something that puts other people’s lives at risk, please don’t.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree.

      I do think that many of us simply aren’t prepared for something like this, and we don’t have a script; we freeze. (“Tharn” is the word in Watership Down.)

      But I think the OP, in problem-solving for the future (since OP can’t go back in time and do it differentliy), needs to have a rule that says, “I never use the phone in the car. And if I think I need to make a call during drive time, I plan a way to stop early enough that there’s no risk I’ll be on the road when I need to make that call.”

  25. Drew*

    OP is taken a lot of hits here that I don’t think are warranted. If she had expected her boss to insist on video, eye-contact chat, I’m sure she wouldn’t have started driving in the first place, especially for what sounds like a fairly long drive when she was running later than expected. Would a better solution have been, “Sorry, I’m going to have to drop off and rejoin when I’m able to find a parking lot, because obviously I can’t be on video while I’m driving”? Sure. But we don’t always think at our best when we’re flummoxed by a boss who is making utterly insane demands.

    1. londonedit*

      That’s what I thought. It sounds like OP started off joining the call with audio only, with the phone on the passenger seat or whatever, and the boss wouldn’t have it and kept insisting they joined the call with microphone and video on, making eye contact (?!) OK, yes, OP should have just refused to do that, but when you’re in the middle of driving and your boss is demanding you do something completely insane and won’t hear otherwise, I can see how you’d feel backed into enough of a corner to just end up switching the damn video on.

      1. OP*

        Yes. It was more of a training sort of meeting, so I figured I could listen in and chime in when needed. not like I was actively presenting or anything. So I started with camera off.

    2. cody*

      “we don’t always think at our best when we’re flummoxed” would not have been an acceptable defense if OP had hit and killed someone.

      1. Anononon*

        Yes. At the end of the day, there are reasons why a person acted a certain way and excuses. I fully understand that OP felt flustered, overwhelmed, and didn’t know what to do in the moment. However, that’s not an excuse, and this is a serious enough action that what OP chose to do that cannot be excused. In this situation, the reasons why do not matter in the slightest.

        1. Qwerty*

          What is with all of the holier-than-thou type of responses today? Alison found a balance between compassion for the situation while also addressing personal responsibility. This comment section has a history of inventing sympathetic backstories for the “villains” in so many letters that I don’t understand the extremity of today’s reaction.

          Can you honestly say that you have never done anything irresponsible? That your driving is impeccable? That you are never the slightest bit distracted or tired when driving and always follow speed and traffic laws? Did you feel like you should be reamed in this same way for those? Are you willing to hold yourself to the same standard? (probably not given the anon username)

          1. Anononon*

            I’ve been using this username for years on this site – sorry it’s not my full legal name and address.

            Of course I’ve done irresponsible things, including unsafe driving, in the past. However, those are bad choices I made that I’ll need to accept full responsibility for if anything ever happened. In the spirit of Alison’s edit at the top (and please delete if I’m still in contravention of it), I think that’s the key here. The OP should work on realizing that personal responsibility is a factor. As powerful as one’s boss can be (and controlling one’s livelihood is really powerful!), you need to learn to pause and consider the choices you have and decisions you make. OP now knows that her boss is an absolutely terrible person, and OP now needs to consciously factor this into her own decision making going forward.

          2. Third or Nothing!*

            Reminds me of all the people who love to chime in to neighborhood posts warning of speed traps: “well if you don’t want a speeding ticket then don’t speed!”

        2. JSPA*

          “I’m kicking myself” is not some sort of new code word for, “hey, I thought this was cool.”

          The armchair quarterbacking of someone who’s already clearly aware that their solution was bad and dangerous is too much. OP is asking for confirmation that the “ask” was completely unacceptable as a way to formulate the strongest possible useful pushback. Not because they plan to keep doing in-car phone chats in the future, if we say it’s cool.

          Nobody appointed the commentariat as the police, or the moral police, or the judiciary. We’re INVITED on this PRIVATELY OWNED site to give HELPFUL, on-topic commentary. Whether or not a particular OP’s choice (whether made actively or passively) is “excusable” or not is not part of the remit.

      2. MerBearStare*

        But thankfully, the OP didn’t hit and kill someone. Every single person here has done *at least* one thing that in hindsight was dangerous and stupid. The OP acknowledges that it was dangerous and stupid and regrets her decision; theorizing what could have, but didn’t, happen when the OP already knows what could have, but didn’t, happen isn’t helpful and comes off as self-righteous.

      3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        It’s kinda the difference between different degrees of a crime, actually.

    3. Elbe*

      Agreed. I think that people are underestimating how difficult it can be to react to such an unexpected, unreasonable situation in the moment. Doing the mental calculus of “Will saying no get me fired? / Can I afford to be without a job? / Is this unreasonable? / Am I hearing this right or am I misunderstanding? / Is there a place to pull over? / How much eye contact is enough contact? / ….” is really difficult when you’re also focusing most of your attention on another task. There’s a certain amount of mental effort that goes into making good decisions that people just don’t have when they’re in a situation that considers THAT much multi-tasking.

      It wouldn’t surprise me at all if, in the moment, it genuinely seemed like occasionally glancing down at the phone was actually a safer, less distracting solution to the OP.

    4. SympatheticFriend*

      Totally agree! I feel bad for OP here. Everyone is telling her that she should have pulled over, but I was under the assumption she was on a time crunch to begin with and couldn’t take the time to stop and find a safe place. While driving and being on a video call at the same time is not a safe decision, I’m sure she was panicked and wasn’t thinking through her options clearly in the moment. For some people, saying “no” to your boss isn’t an option if you don’t want to lose your job.

      1. midnightcat*

        Sorry but if you have a driving license you really need to use it responsibly – if you can’t make judgements like ‘this isn’t a good time to be on zoom’ then you should not be on the road.

        1. sexibunny69 (babblemouth)*

          We’ve all done something unsafe or weird or stupid at some point or another when flustered and caught in the moment. I know that when it happens to me, after taking some time to scold myself and reflect on how lucky I am things turned out well, I spend time figuring out what I should have dome differently and rehearse that in my head. I think that’s what the LW is doing here. Yes, something awful could have happened. She’s glad it didn’t, and she’s looking for guidance on how to handle things differently, how to stand up for herself better in the future. That’s why the pile-on seems unnecessary.

      2. Anononon*

        99% of the time, I totally understand and sympathize when people choose the “selfish” option of not losing their job over the moral option. However, this is one of the times where OP chose absolutely wrong. She was an immediate and lethal danger to every other car on the road for over an hour! That’s unacceptable.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Given the choice between losing your job or killing someone else I’d actually expect most people to choose losing their job.

        If you can’t prioritise safety while driving a car then…maybe don’t drive?

        1. Littorally*

          Oh, come on. You accept the risk of killing someone every damn time you get behind the wheel. Kicking the risk up a few notches isn’t the same as making it a certainty — as demonstrated by the fact that the OP did not, in fact, kill anyone.

          Was it a bad choice to kick the risk up as high as this situation did? Yeah, unquestionably. But talking like the OP consciously decided to choose killing someone over losing her job is bad faith nonsense.

    5. juliebulie*

      I agree, and I think all this speculation (was it a work errand or a personal one, was there a safe place to pull over, etc.) is off topic anyway. It is done, and fortunately no one was hurt. OP is clearly shaken and aware of the potential consequences, and is trying to figure out if this is a normal thing in the workplace. (Needing such validation suggests that their working environment is toxic, but that’s another issue.)

    6. Steveo*

      I think most of us can’t help but think what would happen if OP hit someone. Flummoxed or not, you need to be responsible for the decisions you make – and in many cases they may cause you issues with your manager.

    7. Captain obvious*

      “But we don’t always think at our best when we’re flummoxed by a boss who is making utterly insane demands.”

      This isn’t a difficult question.

      The boss is not making insane demands. He is asking that she participate in a conference call using her mobile phone. That should not be a request that flummoxes anyone. Pull over to the side of the damned road and do the call.

      In life we encounter stressful situations. It doesn’t mean you get to abandon all common sense. Frankly, “pull over” may well have been implicit in the boss’ request.

      1. virago*

        Captain obvious,

        How apropos!

        Did you miss the part in the title, and in the *first* sentence of the question, in which the OP refers to having been asked by the boss to participate in a Zoom call and to make eye contact during the call? I’d say that is safely categorized as an “insane demand” of someone who is driving.

        1. Captain obvious*

          “the OP refers to having been asked by the boss to participate in a Zoom call.”

          How dare he.

          “and to make eye contact during the call?”

          Not particularly a fan of video calls, but this ranks right up there with the Killing Fields as Stuff to Be Outraged About.

    8. TootsNYC*

      But we don’t always think at our best when we’re flummoxed by a boss who is making utterly insane demands.

      plus we’re actually driving–thinking that we could simply listen to the meeting as we drove, which is a bit risky, but not nearly as risky as dealing with video.

  26. Elbe*

    I wish that the advice had included some information about what steps the OP could take now. This definitely seems like a “Report it to HR” situation to me.

    Calling this manager’s decision “poor judgement” is an understatement and I think that her boss would want to know that she was making demands of subordinates that put lives at risk. This person should not be in a management position at all.

    1. Grumpy Lady*

      Yes this. Whats done is done but OP needs to speak with HR about this. This is a horrible precedent and of course no one will feel like they can say no with the economy being what it is. Worst boss ever.

  27. Brooks Brothers Stan*

    I feel like this would be one of those moments where having a one-to-one talk with your manager would be absolutely necessary. Spelling out how absolutely unsafe this was, the danger it put not just you but other people in, and the absolutely ridiculous request of “eye contact is important” needs to be formally addressed. This is a boss that will, and probably has, made unreasonable demands in other areas. There probably isn’t one singular area of Bad Manager Practices that need to be addressed, but the pure wake up call of “what you demanded was completely inexcusable” should serve as enough of a wake-up call to most.

  28. lorij*

    Is there a safe driving mandate at the company? We are not allowed to drive and make/take calls while driving on company time. Human resources needs to be contacted because chances are that the boss is doing this to others. The company could be party to a lawsuit if someone is injured while an employee is driving while distracted.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      I know my small company doesn’t, we barely have any rules.
      But my partner’s large company would qualify this as a fireable offence for BOTH OP and the manager. They take driving safety super seriously, ban all business calls while driving, ALL calls while driving while on company property, and make everyone do a “commentary” driving every 18 months, even people who just work in the office, if you ever want to drive for business.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        It’s very popular for businesses in the transit industry, insurance, and commercial businesses with business auto policies.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          He is not in one of these businesses, but he is in a business which has a huge number of personnel on field jobs and locations, so everyone gets the same rules. And drug tests as well, since it’s not fair that the field personnel gets drug tested and the office personnel does not.

      2. RussianInTexas*

        The “commentary drive”? They are the only company I’ve heard that do that, it’s a giant company but it’s a foreign one, not American, which may have something to do with it.
        Partner does it every 18 months, (even though he doesn’t really have to drive for business), and it’s basically you driving with a safety person next to you, and you get graded after words. According to him it’s never good when the safety instructor wants to have a private conversation. As far as I know, partner only got dinged on not checking the rear-view mirror often enough.
        They also make you back in to the parking spots in the company owner locations, and honk every time you are leaving a parking spot to warn any pedestrians around.

    2. MassMatt*

      Forget company policy, In my state, all phone use while driving must be hands-free (which IMO is still not very safe), prohibited altogether for drivers under age 18, and driving while texting is banned completely. Our laws don’t cover video conferencing while driving but the boss is nuts to specifically require it for someone while driving.

      Check your local laws on whether this is even legal in case it comes up again. And know that your boss values eyeballs at a video meeting more than people’s lives; act accordingly!

  29. Ellie May*

    OP, your boss is a jerk. Geez, my boss made cameras optional back in March saying we have enough to worry about and how we look on Zoom shouldn’t be of any concern. She’s told you a lot about herself – please listen!

  30. Jamboree*

    “Faces and eye contact are required” on zoom meeting’s is literally the stupidest thing on the internet today. If you’re making eye contact you’re not looking at the camera. If you’re looking at the camera you’re not making eye contact! That’s not even talking into account the while zooming while driving Thing!

  31. What the What*

    Look, I know it can be frustrating when a boss makes a ridiculous request. But I think people need to take ownership of the things they say “Yes” to. No one forced you to do something dangerous. You did it. And maybe you did it out of fear: Fear of getting in trouble, fear of getting yelled at, fear of losing your job. But none of those things are actually that bad, especially compared with the potential consequences of doing something dangerous.

    I think the most important thing here is for the OP to address why their split second decision was to do was to give in to the unreasonable demand and do the dangerous thing.

    The manager made an unreasonable demand, and that sucks. But it was the OP who chose to do the wrong thing.

    If that’s your instinct, when confronted with unreasonable decisions, it is possible to train your brain to not do that. The easiest way is to practice certain phrasing like, “I’m not comfortable making a decision about that right now, let’s talk when I get back to the office.” “I’m afraid I can’t make it. We will have to reschedule.” “Unfortunately the technology is not working for me right now. Please fill me in later.” “I’m not feeling well right now. We’ll have to talk about it tomorrow.” And that’s it. It’s stressful to know that you might face repercussions for not immediately responding to your boss with what they want. But you know what? They don’t own you. They just sign your paycheck.

  32. Jimming*

    I see a lot of people asking why didn’t OP pull over. Another option (if something similar happens again) is to just close out zoom and focus on driving.

    Before you leave, say, “I had a family emergency but things are ok and I’m on my way in now. I can either listen in to the meeting today while driving or review the recording when I’m back in the office.” I mean, you shouldn’t have to say this because reasonable people know it’s not safe to use your phone and drive, but OP’s boss is not reasonable.

    1. Happy*

      Next time, don’t even agree to call into the meeting in “safe driving mode”. Distracted driving is not safe and participating in a meeting is distracting whether the camera is on or off. What you did (and what your boss expected) was so, so much worse than just that, but even your initial proposed compromise was a bad idea.

      If it is a work trip, then tell the boss you can either join the meeting or drive back, but not both.

      If it is a personal trip, then tell your boss you are not available for work.

      I understand it can be hard to say no to people in positions of authority, especially when you are on the spot and not prepared for outrageous demands. I don’t react well in those situations, either. But hopefully this can be a learning experience for you and can help prepare all of us to consider what we might do in similar situations so that’ll we’ll be prepared if we are ever similarly tested.

  33. Auga*

    Your boss is seriously appalling, but you weren’t forced. If the police had caught you, they wouldn’t have cared about your boss telling you to do this. It would have been all on you. I’m struggling to see why you didn’t pull over or refuse.

    There has to be a line you draw about when you refuse an order of your boss. I’m assuming you would say no if she demanded you punch someone in the face. Driving while looking at your phone is worse than that: you could have killed someone.

  34. Roeslein*

    You’d think it would be well-known by now that “I followed orders” is not an excuse for knowingly putting others’ lives at risk. OP is an adult and it is her responsibility refuse to engage in illegal behaviour that endangers others. Saying this as someone who lost both in-laws to distracted driving.

  35. Just a thought...*

    I think many people are being too hard on the OP here. They made a bad decision, but their boss made an even more reprehensible one. Maybe they feared for their job by saying no and they’re the sole provider for their family. This is not black and white. It’s possible they were already driving when this call started and had no place to pull over. We don’t know the particulars surrounding it and shouldn’t make assumptions. Thanks to Allison, the OP now knows what their boss did was NOT okay and that it’s okay to stand up for yourself, especially when it involves your safety and others. Please be kind and don’t assume. I’m sure they’re probably beating themself up enough as it is.

  36. 7.1*

    i am typically REALLY sympathetic towards people who have been forced to do weird stuff by their boss. i’ve been there! i’ve done them too! the shock of a situation can absolutely overwhelm their judgment. however, driving like this is extremely reckless and unsafe and i think you really need to examine why you felt it was ok to do that! it makes my stomach clench to think about how many people could have been hurt or killed. good luck, OP.

  37. AKchic*

    OP, check your employee handbook and the P&P’s. Many companies have internal rules governing what is and isn’t acceptable in regards to actions while driving, and most companies, even if they don’t have regular driving positions, do have a blurb about not texting/operating phones while driving (especially because that bit can help lower their insurance or at least mitigate their insurance risk). If that bit is in the policy/handbook – take it to HR or your grandboss. Other people witnesses your boss telling you to break this rule. Blatantly. I am sure that if you got into an accident, the company would not want to be liable (even in part) for the financial compensation of your medical bills, time off, etc., let alone any potential victims. If you were driving a company vehicle, there’s also the company image to consider as well. And your boss just said she didn’t care all because she has her own control issues about having face time in a video chat and “making eye contact”.

    Could you have pulled over? I don’t know. I wasn’t in that vehicle with you and I don’t know what road(s) you were on. That isn’t on me to decide. All you can do is move forward. It might be beneficial to practice saying “then write me up. I’d love to hear how you’re going to explain to HR that I refuse to break the law/P&P/handbook rule to satisfy your need for control right now”. No, you aren’t going to say exactly that. It’s going to help you learn how to say “I’m unable to do that right now. I will call in as soon as I am safely able” and hang up.

    1. Observer*

      Assuming that the OP’s company has reasonable HR. As someone else noted, there are some signals here that the workplace may be toxic, which does not bode well.

      But I agree that the OP should practice pushing back on this in some way or other.

  38. lost academic*

    You and your boss would both be summarily fired if that happened at my company. That also applies to you taking a voice call, even hands free, while driving, and would get your boss fired if they knew you were driving and did not immediately end the call. Hard stop, no exceptions for seniority or rank.

    That aside, you should absolutely not have acquiesced to this, and for an HOUR? I understand the pressure though you didn’t give any details about why you had to keep driving, but just no.

    You need to elevate this not to HR but to legal. I don’t know what was said that got you to do something so dangerous but this has to be stopped.

  39. Hermione*

    Look, you obviously know this was wrong, or you wouldn’t have written in. I am not one of those who usually takes the time to pile on, but I feel like this is such a huge violation of safety that this needs to be said very, very clearly:

    I’m disappointed in you.

    You put not only yourself, but every single other person on the road that day at risk.

    You compromised your boundaries and good sense for a boss who clearly has none themselves, and who clearly does not care whether you live or die.

    You had a choice here (a few of them, in fact) and you chose wrong. Very wrong.

    Please, please, please learn from this. You deserve to be safe. You deserve to have firm boundaries around your safety. You deserve a boss that would never ask this of you.

    Resolve to let this be the last time you compromise on safety, ever.

  40. Esmeralda*

    Come ON. Everyone makes mistakes — I hardly think “OP shouldn’t be driving because their boss got them flustered” is a reasonable reading of this situation.

    OP made a mistake AND SAYS SO. Be nice. Statements like this are NOT helpful.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Everyone makes mistakes, but I genuinely think that if someone is so flustered and upset that they can’t follow a pretty basic and well-known traffic law – which is what Grumpy Lady was arguing – then they are probably not in a condition to drive at all, let alone drive while trying to participate in a Zoom meeting with eye contact for an HOUR. I don’t think it makes sense to say ‘she was in too much distress to follow traffic laws’ and then say that ‘maybe she shouldn’t have been driving’ is unreasonable.

      In the spirit of Alison’s request for constructive advice – if getting flustered is actually the problem, maybe learning some kind of calming techniques for stressful situations might help with OP’s decision-making going forward. Making bad decisions under pressure is a pretty common problem so I’m sure that there is advice out there to help with calming and focusing in the moment.

  41. UrbanChic*

    OP, I recommend if you are running late, and still need to participate in a meeting face-to-face via zoom, that you park while taking the meeting and resume driving afterwards. Glad you’re ok.

    1. Willis*

      Yes, my advice for scenarios like this in the future would be to park somewhere before even calling in. At least then if your boss wants to argue with you that you should be driving while zooming, you’re in a safe place to discuss whether they’d prefer you on the call or on the road without being flustered enough to agree to do both.

  42. Juniantara*

    If OP wants a way to frame this with their boss/HR or wants to go full nuclear, this is probably an OSHA violation – OSHA applies even if you are in your own vehicle, even if you are exempt, even if it’s an office-only environment. Even if it’s not against the law in their state (it probably is), it’s probably an OSHA violation that could earn them a nasty fine and way more scrutiny

  43. Not So Super-visor*

    Sorry to be the jerk here, but I don’t think that OP gave us enough details to know if the boss was really in the wrong here. Maybe the boss never intended OP to drive while on the call and assumed that OP would pull over. I can think of a lot of reasons why a boss would tell an employee that it’s unacceptable to miss a meeting because “life happened.” OP didn’t tell us what that means — does that mean that you overslept or that your child was violently ill? Most managers understand that life happens, but would still tell you that you need to join the zoom call. Did OP call boss before hitting the road to tell boss that they’d be late or did OP wait until they were already on the road? We don’t know.

    1. Captain obvious*

      Maybe the boss never intended OP to drive while on the call and assumed that OP would pull over.

      Exactly. This is 110% common sense. Pull off the damned road and do your conference call. It’s not rocket science.

    2. Observer*

      There is NO context in which the Boss’ behavior is acceptable. Maybe the OP couldhave pulled over. That still does not excuse the boss. Because there is NO WAY that the boss did not know that the OP was actually driving. So the boss should have told them to pull over, at minimum. But Boss did NOT do that.

      Also, the OP did actually join the call. What the boss wanted was “eye contact”. That’s stupid even without the issue of being in a car. So, this is not even the boss being unreasonable about joining a meeting, but about an EXTRA that is not even a good idea in any case.

      1. Not So Super-visor*

        Observer: Once again, we don’t have the details to know this. I said this in a comment below, but OP could have had a background or blur background on her app. Mine’s set to default a blur since my home office isnt great. I don’t have to set that at every meeting; it does it automatically. It just blurs the background but my face/body are perfectly clear. I’ve never done a video call while moving in a vehicle, so I don’t know if that kind of movement would force the background effect off.

        Managers may ask or direct employees to make difficult choices or do difficult tasks. Typically, we ask that the employee still use their best judgement to do this. As an example, my husband recently had to fire a dock worker for recklessly driving a forklift (speeding and almost hitting a supervisor) and not wearing the required seat belt. The dock worker’s excuse: my husband told him to unload the container ASAP. My husband did not instruct him to speed, not wear safety equipment, and almost injure someone. He more less wanted the driver to focus on the task, quit stopping the forklift to play with his phone, and get the job done.

        In this case, there are enough details that are left out that we just don’t know. Everyone is just left making assumptions based on their own experiences. Lots of people seem to have experiences with toxic bosses making unreasonable demands, but some of us have other experiences.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      But if the boss didn’t mean for OP to join while driving then surely they would have been like “OP, why on earth are you talking and driving, rejoin the meeting once you’re pulled over”? If they were on this call for an hour with video and eye contact – presumably with the OP holding the phone in her hand if she doesn’t have a holder? – it must have been really obvious that she was driving from her movements, the background etc.

  44. e271828*

    I know how it is to freeze up and just do what you’re told to do in the moment, OP, but I hope you hear the wake-up call this incident represents. You used up a lifetime of luck in that hour.

    Hope the boss was ready to compensate you for the distracted-driving ticket and the insurance hit, if you got pulled over.

  45. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m in an area where driving with your phone in your hand is a CRIMINAL charge. So I’m a bit shocked that this is a thing that happened.

    This reminds me of the stories of bosses who haul people out of bed to pick them up at a the airport and get mad you were dressed too casually. If this wasn’t a pandemic, I’d quit over this kind of nonsense, this boss is off their rocker and shows how they don’t care about the safety of others. Oops, battery died.

  46. Liz*

    Wow. I feel like this a boss who’d also be the type to force you to come in the office with Covid symptoms just because in-office attendance is “mandatory”.

    I think I would’ve instinctively refused the “driving-while-making-eye-contact” policy – mostly because it’s so beyond the realm of common sense that I’d think my boss was joking. I’d want her to hear the surprised tone in my voice so she’d see what an absurd and dangerous situation it was. I do agree with pulling over to take the call, but sounds like OP had the same level of shock in that moment.

    Could something like this be grounds for “unsafe working conditions”? Could she record the call if her job could be jeopardized (or God forbid she was injured or even killed) to prove her concern, her boss’ acknowledgement of such & yet still made her do it? In some states, it’s illegal to simply have your phone in your hand while operating a motor vehicle. Not to mention taking your eyes off the road is definitely one of the top “Things NOT To Do” on the Driving 101 list.

    Hope it doesn’t happen again, but if it does I hope OP is able to either protect herself without reprimand, or find an employer that actually respects the safety of its employees.

    /end rant

    1. Betty (the other betty)*

      Even if the driver had proof that her boss “required” her to drive while on a video call, the courts would find that the driver was at fault if she caused an accident.

      The boss is a jerk. The driver knows she made a big mistake by driving while on the video call, and was lucky that nothing bad came of it.

      I hope that the driver will be ready to refuse when her boss makes a dangerous request in the future.

  47. SummerBee*

    I do a job that’s based in an office, but when I worked for manufacturing companies we often were included in Safety training for employees who worked in the plant. The rule that was reinforced for them was, if anyone ever asks you to do anything at work that is unsafe (in this cases things like using a plasma cutter without eye or hand protection, or sticking your hand into a moving machine), you refuse. Period.

    I wish office employees would receive the same training, and I’d encourage the OP to use this rule yourself.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think that’s part of why I’m so shocked at this shenanigans, coming from manufacturing and strict-safety-guidelines, you just say “I will not, that’s a safety violation!” and the person backs down, sometimes annoyed but oh well, boohoo you’re mad that I don’t wanna die.

  48. Lucy Honeychurch*

    Reading these responses, I take it many of you have not worked in a completely toxic environment for a horrible boss where you are petrified of losing your job and thus being able to you know, eat. Obviously the wise and correct choice would be to push back and say, “No, this is unsafe.” But if you have been abused and do not have confidence to do such a thing (and there’s that pesky eating thing again), then you may not have these life skills yet.

    Oh to have the wisdom I have now and be able to act on what I know now when I was in my mid-20s. My behavior now vs. my behavior then would have been completely different. Sheesh.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      How cute that you think that people haven’t had their own experiences with toxicity. Most of us have and still don’t use that as an excuse to do something so reckless and dangerous to ourselves and others.

      Tell this to a cop when you’re getting a ticket and your license revoked, I’m sure they’ll take pity on you or they’ll find other charges to tack on because you just don’t get how serious this is.

      1. Lucy Honeychurch*

        I don’t think it’s cute at all. I said I feel for a person who felt this type of pressure due to lack of confidence to push back. That is it. Carry on.

    2. Lucy Honeychurch*

      No, not every single person has been in this situation. Plenty of people have more confidence to push back. Plenty of people have parents that will pick up slack when they can’t pay bills. Plenty of people have degrees or skills that make it easy for them to find jobs.

      Good on you for being someone that would have done things just right. I have empathy for someone in this situation who did not, and wants to do better ongoing.

    3. Not So Super-visor*

      For myself only, I am saying that OP didn’t give us enough details to know if this is that type of toxic work environment. I think that people who are in or have been in a toxic workplace are assuming that OP’s boss said “Get on the call or else. I don’t care if you’re driving.” Some of us, however, are questioning whether that was the case. As a manager myself, I can see myself being frustrated with an employee missing an important meeting and telling them that we needed them to be an active participant on the call. Personally, I would assume that my employee would exercise good judgement and pull-over. Just because the boss told OP to be on the call does not mean that boss did not expect OP to use good judgment and follow established safety laws. We don’t know how much information OP gave to their boss, what their lateness entailed. We just don’t know. I think that we’re all drawing assumptions based on our own experiences.

      1. Lucy Honeychurch*

        Not So Super-visor, thank you, that is fair. While I find it terrible that the OP did not push back, I am equally horrified that a boss would demand eye contact, so I did focus on that. It screamed really toxic to me, and certainly a lot of assumptions are being made all around. But you are correct that there is a lack of information to know exactly what transpired.

      2. jenkins*

        I just can’t see how the boss wouldn’t realise OP was still driving for that hour, though. If she could see clearly enough to know if OP was making sufficient eye contact (!) then she must have been able to see that OP was controlling the vehicle and it was moving. There’s no way the boss should have allowed that to continue for thirty seconds, let alone an hour.

        1. Not So Super-visor*

          Unless she has a background or blur set for her video conferencing. My work uses Teams not Zoom, so everyone has a background set. Personally, I just use the blur option so that people can’t see my sorry excuse for a home office.

    4. Actual Vampire*

      My personal experience of toxicity was being involved in a car accident as a child because my dad thought getting to work on time was more important than cleaning snow off the car windows. If your brain’s anxious panic mode puts other people in danger, YOU are the toxic one.

  49. Mark Richards*

    OP: “had to travel during the workday… My boss told me to join in via Zoom while I drove…. This led to driving for an over an hour”

    I see a couple problems here. First, the OP doesn’t state if the workday travel was personal or not. Second, given that lack of specificity, I am unsure whether to take “join via zoom while I drove” as a direct quote, or the OP’s understanding of what happened. Finally, “driving for over an hour” like this is absurd and shows a severe lack of judgement.

    What is the real scenario?
    1. OP was forced to travel for work, forced to drive while zooming?
    2. OP had a personal appointment, was late for a meeting, boss is annoyed, insisted “join the meeting from your car” and wasn’t clear on “obviously don’t do while driving, but you have to be in the meeting”?
    3. Something in between?

    Regardless, there’s no excuse for driving while video-conferencing. If the boss demanded that, the boss needs to be reported, but if the OP only inferred that, the OP needs to re-think their choices.

  50. Llellayena*

    Not much you can do now, after you’ve already driven with the video on, but I would definitely bring it to HR’s attention or your boss’s boss depending on who you feel is the better contact so it never happens again. In the moment a cheerful “Oh my phone doesn’t allow me to use video while I’m driving and I’m not going to risk an accident to try to change that. I can pull over in about X minutes if you need me to, but then I won’t get back until X time.” Basically say the risk out loud so whoever else is on the call can see how ridiculous this is and how accommodating you are.

  51. Properlike*

    Is this an example where OP should go over her manager’s head to the supervising boss? There is nothing about how this mandate was conveyed that screams “rational” to me, and would there be any purpose to trying to tell the manager after the fact that you will not do something unsafe again? Or is it straight to HR/legal?

    I’ve worked for toxic bosses with the predictable long-term second-guessing of every decision I’ve ever made, even after I left, so I get it.

  52. staceyizme*

    People will declare all kinds of things that you “have to” do. Sometimes having phrasing on hand will help you to “nope” out of an unreasonable situation without feeling like you’re in the position of having to JADE something that isn’t able to BE justified, argued about, defended or explained. How do you deal with boundary pushers when they have power over you? It’s kind of like the schoolyard bully. As scary as it is, and as risky as it is, you have to stand up for yourself. You don’t have to convince someone else that your view is the correct or the reasonable one in order to simply NOT do crazy things. “That will not be possible.” (Or for a boss, “I’m SO SORRY! That will not be possible.” , (“but I’ll be sure to (build in extra time so I can get back next time, get with Fergus to make sure that the Thing-a-ma-bob-initiative is good to go, make myself available from noon to five pm tomorrow if anyone needs to stop by and clarify… yadda yadda”…>. Staying out of the metaphorical sand traps, weeds and other hazards during the course of performing your duties isn’t something that you want to figure out how to do on the fly. A list of ways to gracefully “nope” out of these is a requirement when dealing with unreasonable or stressed out bosses.

  53. Jaybeetee*

    I sympathize with the LW, in that while I’ve hopefully never made a *dangerous* decision under pressure, I have certainly made *wrong* decisions under pressure. It can take time and experience to learn how to push back and get comfortable with conflict, and that isn’t with the spectre of losing one’s job. I also have worked in and known people who worked in situations where they were encouraged to make unsafe choices because they were cheaper, faster, etc. It can really screw with your sense of how to properly handle those sorts of situations.

    LW should have pulled over or refused. But it sounds like LW already knows that and there’s no point beating the horse now.

    LW, what your boss asked was almost certainly illegal. Check your local laws, check with HR, check to see if there’s a complaint you can file anywhere. If there’s anyone over your boss’ head, talk to them. This was so egregious on your boss’ part it seems unlikely it’s the only time she’s been outrageous. Talk to people, and document.

  54. animaniactoo*

    Sometimes, you can make it clear by highlighting the ridiculousness of the position:

    “To be clear, you are telling me that I need to drive in a dangerous way in order to participate in this meeting?”

    “To be clear, you are asking me to visually impair myself while driving by having my video on for this meeting?”

    If they say “No” the answer is “I have no other way to be on video for this call while driving except by doing that. So either I will have to stay off video or not participate in the meeting. Which would you prefer?”

    And if they still insist on you being on video, round robin it again. Look for what the legal recourse/issue would be in the moment, as the next level of refusal. So for instance, you could bring up that it would be both illegal for you as a driver, and also be an OSHA violation – unsafe work environment, because you are performing a work task that has created a dangerous situation – and you don’t want to place yourself or the company in jeopardy if you crashed because you were looking at the phone instead of the road.

  55. EHB*

    It’s good that you recognize you made the wrong choice by continuing to drive, that’s all I’ll say on that point.

    What HR/higher up options do you have? I think the next step is to go above your boss (ideally to HR) and explain that you felt coerced into a dangerous situation by your boss. If your HR is any good, they will take this seriously. Should this happen again, remember how you feel now and choose your own safety!

  56. AVP*

    This is a clusterf. I’m guessing the boss was just mad that OP didn’t get back in time and wanted to punish her by making her missing of the meeting as arduous as possible. Totally unreasonable…but there’s not much here that *is* reasonable.

    Could the boss have been reasonably upset about “life happening”? I think we’d need more info on that to say, whether the OP was traveling for work, and what actually happened there. Of course it makes no sense to take a call like that while driving, but was OP rushing back to make another meeting? Or could they have pulled over? Would need more info to say.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Maybe it depends if the job is hourly or not. If it’s a “rear end in seat” type of job, I can see it mattering that an employee was away from their desk.

    2. mf*

      “I’m guessing the boss was just mad that OP didn’t get back in time and wanted to punish her by making her missing of the meeting as arduous as possible.”

      Yep, I agree. It’s not clear to me whether the boss just said, “That’s not acceptable. You have to join this meeting with your video camera on” and expected the OP to find a way to make it work, or whether the boss actually said, “I don’t care if you’re driving, you still need to have your video on.” Those are two very different things.

      And, if this was a large meeting, it’s entirely possible the boss didn’t look closely at the OP’s video and didn’t notice that the OP was driving during the meeting. It’s possible the whole thing was one terrible episode of miscommunication.

    3. Honestly*

      Yep. I agree with your take on the boss’s motivation and I’d be curious if OP has a habit of “letting life get in the way” and it affecting their work.

      The boss is definitely in the wrong though. If that’s the case they don’t get to endanger people’s lives because they haven’t dealt with performance issues.

  57. Ace in the Hole*

    Depending on the size of your organization, you may have a dedicated safety person who is responsible for handling workplace safety, OSHA compliance, etc. If so, please report this to them! If not, please consider reporting this to OSHA. Employees have legal protection from retalliation for reporting safety concerns.

    Your boss should NEVER be asking you to risk your life. Never. It’s illegal, immoral, and simply not okay.

  58. alienor*

    I’m shocked that none of the people on the call said anything. If I were a participant in a call where someone was obviously driving and holding/looking into their phone, I would either say something myself or message whoever was leading the meeting to ask them to speak up. There is no way I want to be an eyewitness to a horrific car crash via video so that someone’s face can be on the screen for a meeting that probably wasn’t all that important (and even if it was important, still no).

  59. Kyrielle*

    OP, I would first check your employee handbook. There is a real chance that if you try to raise this with HR, you could also be fired, since you did as your boss asked.

    Second, I’d go back over the boss’s exact words. Is there any chance they did not mean for you to do this while driving? Or were they clear in specifying that? If they weren’t clear – even if from their tone/knowledge of them you are sure that is what they meant – then again, I wouldn’t escalate it because they can simply say that’s not what they meant.

    If it isn’t likely to get you fired, or if you can afford to lose the job, and they were clear about the expectations – then I would report it to HR if it is illegal where you are or if it is against the employee handbook.

    But regardless of any of this – I hope you will take this opportunity to think through unreasonable scenarios and how you want to handle them. If your boss did this to you again, what would you want to say/do? What options did you have as far as stopping vs not being in the meeting, etc.

    You can’t plan for every bizarre, unsafe request – and this one probably won’t happen again the same way. But thinking through what you would like to have done will give you some practice at that sort of thinking, and you can also make a commitment to yourself if you are put on the spot that way again, that you will come up with something other than being unsafe in the moment.

    I’m really, really glad that you and everyone around you were lucky this time. Please take advantage of that luck, and work on thinking through how to handle requests for unsafe behavior in the future.

  60. Julia K.*

    I’m usually sympathetic to people panicking and caving in response to an unreasonable request. But the temptation to use a phone while driving is something that everyone by now has had many, many, many opportunities to practice firmly saying “no” to. What’s one more “no”?

    When someone important calls me and I’m driving, I pull over ASAP and then call them back. If they text me, I pull over or at least wait until a stoplight to read it and respond briefly. If I’m already at a stoplight and they call me, I tell them I’m driving but that I’ll pull over ASAP and call them back.

    If traffic is making me late and I need to text someone to let them know that, I pull over or wait until a stoplight. If I’m lost and need to do anything complicated on Google maps or look up an address, I pull over. If I’m driving and realize I’m too sleepy, headachy, crampy, tipsy, feverish, or whatever to continue driving safely, I pull over until it passes or I can arrange for someone to pick me up. If I posted a brilliant comment online just before leaving and suddenly realize I need to edit it to make it even more brilliant, I pull over.

    Everyone has good reasons to use their phone while driving. They’re never good enough to be worth the risk. Everyone should be practiced by now in telling themselves – and others – that they can’t continue until they’ve pulled over.

    It’s no different with a boss. “I’m 30 minutes out from the office; would you like me to keep going and join the meeting when I get back, or pull over and join the zoom meeting now?” Those are the options. End of discussion.

    If the boss literally says you should use the phone while driving, say the same practiced line you tell yourself and others all the time. “Sorry, that’s not safe and probably not even legal. I’d be happy to pull over and join, though.”

  61. Copier Company Admin Girl*

    My eyes really popped out of my head as I read the title. What on earth! Unless you’re fighting a wildfire or taming lions (or some other equally adventurous job), your boss should never ask you to do something that would literally put your life in immediate danger. I hope you’re able to find a good time to speak up about this so other employees don’t have the same experience. Best of luck <3

  62. Lucy Honeychurch*

    Not So Super-visor, thank you, that is fair. While I find it terrible that the OP did not push back, I am equally horrified that a boss would demand eye contact, so I did focus on that. It screamed really toxic to me, and certainly a lot of assumptions are being made all around. But you are correct that there is a lack of information to know exactly what transpired.

  63. Amethystmoon*

    In my state, she would have been pulled over and ticketed, had a police officer seen her. Our driving laws are quite strict.

    To me, if a boss would want to fire someone for not driving carefully, that’s not a boss I would want to work for.

  64. CW*

    Yes, life happens. You are not only an employee, but you are also a human being. Your boss needs to understand that.

    On top of that, you were driving. And forcing you make eye contact? Had you done so you would have gotten into a car accident. Your boss was way out of line here. Sounds like you need to start looking for a new job. This is unacceptable.

  65. Observer*

    OP, as someone noted, the fact that you even had to ask whether this is a norm raises some red flags. Either your are in a toxic job, have developed norms from past toxic jobs or have some internal issues. This is TOTALLY and completely NOT normal.

    Please take a good hard look at what happened. If this is a toxic workplace, please developed some strategies for pushing back on unreasonable and dangerous demands (even if it means that your technology suddenly becomes flaky). Also, please start working on finding a new job. I know that finding a new job is easier said than done, so I’m not saying “just quit”. But the sooned you start working on an exit strategy, the sooner you will find options. This is true even in this kind of economy.

    If your job is not that toxic, you may still need to get out of there, because your boss is NOT a reasonable person and it’s hard to tell whether you have the tools you need to push back and protect yourself. But, regardless if the core issue is that you cannot stand up to this kind of thing for whatever reason, working with someone (whether it be a coach, therapist or mentor depending on the core of the problem) on developing the internal tool set is imperative.

  66. CocoB*

    Even if OP had other options or did not have valid reason for missing the meeting, the boss should have addressed that after the fact and not with unreasonable and yes, life threatening, requirements. Many companies have a “no phones while driving on the job” policy. If OP’s company has one, the boss may have “forced” OP into disregarding company policy. If OP has a reasonable HR department and such a policy, it may be worth reporting to HR. But consider the players and the circumstances before reporting or you could find yourself in trouble as well.

    Fortunately, there was no one physically harmed or killed in the outcome and a huge lesson can be learned from Allison’s advice.

  67. nep*

    I’ve not read through all the comments, so it might have been mentioned…I feel a ‘worst boss’ nomination here. Or at least a worst-action-by-a-boss. Alison’s word reprehensible is spot on here.
    So sorry, LW, that you have to face this. Wishing you all the best.

  68. Heather*

    I think it is reasonable for the OP to ask for a meeting with his/her boss. Explain that driving while holding a phone and looking into a camera was exceptionally dangerous and you will not be doing it again.
    Then say that you want to review some ideas you had should the situation arise again. (Some of my ideas are below, obviously, tailor these to your job/work.)
    1. Put the call in safe driving, listen, but spend the time focused on the road.
    2. Receive a recording of the call and review it at a later time and then check in with boss to ask any follow up questions.

    Good luck!

  69. Mill Miker*

    The fact that the OP felt they could join in a mode that disables the microphone, combined with the insistence on eye contact, makes me wonder if this is one of those meetings where the boss puts everyone else on mute and just tells them what’s what.

    I’m imagining the OP’s car sitting in the passenger seat on the highway while the bosses voice just keeps saying “We’ll start the meeting as soon as everyone has their video on. OP? OP why isn’t your video on? Op? Op? You’re wasting everyone’s time. Op? If you’re trying to say something OP, you’re muted, and I can’t unmute you until you turn on video. Op? We’re all waiting… OP!”

    I’m probably reading too much into it, but I’m getting soo stressed just thinking about it.

  70. Lizy*

    y’all, it doesn’t matter why she was driving. Yes, there are details missing but site rules mandate that we take the OP at her word. Maybe she had to drive for work. Maybe she had to drive home from taking her kid to the ER. Maybe she had a day at the spa… it doesn’t matter!

    IMO it also doesn’t matter *why* she took the call (verses taking PTO, saying she couldn’t make the meeting, or any other excuse). She took it. Maybe she’s a new employee worried about losing her job. Arguing about why she took the call or why she didn’t decline it isn’t helping.

    OP, I hope you’re able to stand up for yourself when/if this happens again. It might be good practice to bring it up to your boss now – just to say “hey, just so you know for next time, I’m not comfortable taking a video call while driving. I’ll do my best to be present visually, but if something happens again where I’m not able to, I trust you’ll be ok with me putting safety first.”

    Good luck.

  71. digitalnative-ish*

    Full disclosure: I’ve been hit by a car when I was not in a car (literally been on the other side of the windshield, as it were), so this hits home a bit.

    I really think you need to tell HR or someone with authority over your boss about this. Because, if this were the case with my crash, you bet I would’ve gone after them and the company for damages. At the very least explored the options with my lawyer. I know that’s a hugely uncomfortable conversation on your end, but I really think they need to know your boss insisted on it. If there’s not a policy about working while driving, maybe you’ll be the reason to create one (which would be a good thing).

    Additionally, think about anything else about your boss that reflects poor judgement. I can believe someone has this big of a blindspot when it comes to driving, but the whole thing makes me think that’s maybe not the end of it. It might be worth mentioning if it’s a pattern in other areas.

    If you know TPTB won’t care/are otherwise unhelpful, maybe start a job search. Given what you’ve written, I don’t think you’ll do this again, so have a strategy in place, whether that’s speaking directly to your boss about never video-chatting while driving (I’d include talking/texting while driving) or in the moment refusals.

    Your boss sucks, and I’m really sorry.

    1. Unfettered scientist*

      Boss was definitely wrong to say OP needed to maintain eye-contact while driving, but to my read, the boss isn’t saying “absolutely keep driving and don’t take your eyes off the phone,” just “this is a meeting and I need your attention/eye contact.” Unless OP is driving for work-reasons and the boss insisted on both driving and using the phone, I’m not sure such a claim would hold water if OP got into an accident. Chances are, they’re not supposed to be driving for personal business on company time (if that’s what OP was doing).

      1. digitalnative-ish*

        Sorry I was mostly saying I would pursue a case because I think that’s an argument HR would be receptive to. “Do you really want legal spending any time/money on proving it was entirely my fault?” kind of thing. Maybe they’re okay with that, but I suspect more often than not they wouldn’t be.

        And the boss did insist on driving and using the phone: “My boss told me to join in via Zoom while I drove….She said faces and eye contact were required.” I understand company time vs. personal time, but from my experience, my lawyer would’ve been asking the company questions. So it would end up costing them; it’s just a matter of degree.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s good you mention the liability aspect! Our insurance broker was specifically reminding us that if someone is driving and being paid by us, we’re going to be sued if they get an an accident [hence, we were making sure our insurance package was robust enough for that idea in mind!].

      If we were sued because someone was in an accident during a phone conference, then found out that they were using video and holding the phone. Everyone involved would be fired. This includes the people on the phone call that would have noticed the OP was driving on the phone!

  72. Not So Super-visor*

    Understandable — the thought of forced eye contact makes me shudder. Perhaps that’s not what boss meant but how it was phrased. I’ve had to remind employees that I need them to be active participants on calls especially if clients are on the video, but I typically mean that I want them to look like they’re paying attention (head bobbing, note taking, etc)

  73. joss*

    In the here and now I would say the OP needs to look at what the law in her state is regarding this. I know that here in CA it is illegal to do this. If it is in her state as well she needs to take this to HR and point out that her boss instructed her to break the law while a different solution was available (voice only).

    1. Anononon*

      I would be very, very cautious about following this advise because there’s a very good chance that the OP would get in (serious) trouble as well.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yep, it’s illegal in my state too, so I was thinking that would be a good pushback (if applicable to OP). Some localities also have strict regulations around cell phone use in cars, even if the state doesn’t. Where I am, it’s a huge fine plus points on your license, so it would not be worth the risk for a conference call, even if it wasn’t ridiculously dangerous.

    3. mf*

      Yes, agree. If this is an ongoing issue, the simplest, easiest way for the OP to push back would be to say, “Sorry, that’s illegal. Can we discuss other options for how I can attend this meeting?” It’s gonna be real hard for the boss argue with that–that’s not a good look and would likely be something that HR or upper management would not find acceptable.

  74. LGC*

    I literally started laughing in horror at this letter. Thank you, LW, for bringing back WTF Wednesday.

    One thing I’ve had to learn the hard way is that if you push back, the world isn’t going to end. I think a lot of people think this – even to the point where I’ve had to reassure employees that it’s okay or even the right thing to disagree with me. I’m sorry that you had to learn that lesson in this way, LW.

    1. Anononon*

      Also, depending on your state laws, if you push back and the boss retaliates against you, you could have a civil cause of action. In NJ, for example, the Conscientious Employee Protection Action protects employees from retaliation if they refuse to do something that they reasonably believe is against the law.

  75. LTL*

    Hey OP, I just note that shame might get in the way of improving. It’s really frustrating to realize you should have done something differently and it’s great that you’ve acknowledged that you made a mistake. But don’t keep kicking yourself! It’s hard to address the core of the issue, whatever it may be, when you’re beating yourself up about what happened. What’s done is done and you’re on your way to doing better. Best of luck to you.

  76. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

    OP, I’m so sorry! Is there someone responsible for office safety at your company? It sounds like your employer needs a safe driving policy. Many have one, where taking meetings while driving is specifically prohibited. That would at least give you something to lean on if your boss ever makes this demand again.

  77. adam807*

    Genuine curiosity here: Does the driving mode turn your camera off, or just turn the screen off? I wonder if being visible (and therefore visibly driving) might have mitigated this at all for OP? Though they say they don’t have a dashboard mount or anything so that might have just been a weird angle! I’ve been on Zooms (large groups where it’s perfectly fine for someone to just be listening without talking) where someone has had their phone mounted on the dash and just seeing they’re driving has made ME uncomfortable! But I can also see they’re looking at the road not the phone so that helps a bit. Ugh, your boss sucks, OP, I’m so sorry this happened to you.

  78. ThePear8*

    Oh my God.

    “That’s not hyperbole. People die from doing this.”

    Allison nailed it right here. Seriously, your life was put at risk. My sister was recently in a very bad car accident – thankfully she and the other driver were both unharmed, but had certain small events played out differently that might not have been the case. This was a serious accident – the airbag deployed and the car was totaled. Even though I wasn’t in it, two weeks later I and my family are still reeling and in shock because I know how close I came to losing the most important person in my life, and the relief that she’s okay is just as strong as the terror that she was in that situation in the first place.
    Allison has already covered that it must’ve been hard to stand up in the moment and that things can’t be done differently now – this is a learning experience, and I just hope that going forward, you stay safe, for yourself and the people who love you.

  79. Fashionable Pumpkin*

    I’m reminded of the news story of the Walmart managers who would kick in overnight workers and leave them without a manager on site. The workers had had it drilled into them NEVER to open the emergency door because it would set off a fire alarm, and when a worker was having a heart attack they kept trying to ring the manager to come unlock the door, so that they could get him help (without setting off the fire alarm by just, y’know, opening the emergency door to leave).
    There was also a psychology experiment where participants were instructed to push a button and pause a recipient to receive ever-increasing voltage electrical shocks. Most people complied.

    It’s easy to criticize OP, but we are very socialized to obey authority figures.

    OP, I’m so sorry this happened and I’m glad you’re safe. If I were you, I’d be job hunting because your boss sounds awful. (I don’t know that this is a possibility for you, given the pandemic)

  80. Washi*

    OP, one thing that might also help in the future if stuff like this comes up, is that it’s never too late to decide to leave an unsafe situation. I’m guessing once you panicked and agreed to the video, you felt like you were stuck, but it would have been totally fine once you realized to be like “sorry, I’m actually having a hard time driving safely with this on! I’m going to turn off video/leave the call now.”

    You can practice this in lower stakes situations by occasionally excusing yourself from a boring conversation or changing a plan you had made. At least, that’s helped me with my weird fear of publicly changing my mind!

    1. SyFyScientist*

      That’s actually a great recommendation – to practice on low stakes situations. A good reminder for me to work on this as well.

  81. Persephone Underground*

    If your company has a legal department, OP, maybe you could ask them if you can speak to someone confidentially. Then ask them what to do to prevent this in future, citing your fear of being fired for following your boss’ orders or in retaliation for reporting (once they confirm you’re speaking confidentially to them first). They’ll certainly have a conniption over the legal liability this posed to the company, so may have good advice on how to report while protecting yourself. Ideally drop in in person, but if you can’t a phone call is ideal here- lawyers often prefer to avoid writing things down until they’re official.

  82. Mx*

    Your boss needs to be fired.
    If you have a decent HR, the next step is to tell them what happened.

  83. animaniactoo*

    I explained I was driving without equipment, but she didn’t care.

    People keep questioning whether the boss actually intended for the OP to be driving while on the video call. And it’s certainly not like they didn’t see the movement of stuff going by while OP was driving. If this is not what the boss had intended, wouldn’t she have said something to the effect of “Whoa! OP! Are you still driving? You need to pull over somewhere.”?

    Which leads me to conclude that A) Yes, this is exactly what the boss intended and B) that nobody else commented probably means they are used to this boss making ridiculous demands and too inured to comment even at this level of danger.

  84. CW*

    Your boss said not having the camera on is unacceptable? She had it completely backwards; holding the phone behind the wheel while video calling is unacceptable. And illegal nowadays in many parts of the country. It’s a lucky thing you didn’t get into a car accident.

    I have heard of bosses making employees doing things out of line, but this just takes it to a whole new level.

  85. Susana*

    Um… this is not just unwise behavior the boss is directing LW to do. It’s ILLEGAL. She could get a heavy fine or even lose her license.I’m actually sympathetic to LW, who kay have felt guilty about having to drive somewhere during a meeting, and I get that it’s hard to pus back on the boss in the moment, But saying, you’re seriously asking me to break the law and risk the consequences – not to mention the consequences if I hit and kill someone? – is warranted.

  86. MissDisplaced*

    I think the best thing (in hindsight) you could’ve done or said would have been:

    “I am driving right now, so I will have on audio only until I can safely pull over.”
    If there was some reason why you couldn’t pull over or park the car, then the option would have been to say.

    “I’m sorry you find audio unacceptable, but I cannot pull over to safely interact on video right now. It would be dangerous to try and do so.” If they scream at you over that… then, well, I guess you know your boss thinks it’s ok to ignore safety issues and put people’s lives at risk.

  87. RestResetRule*

    I have had 2 situations of my own where I felt coerced to deal with work stuff while traveling on the road, and it’s never gone well.

    The first was an INTERVIEW with my would-be supervisor and two higher-ups. I had told the supervisor I would be traveling on the road that day (going between states, no less) and would rather find another day to chat. But she pressured me, saying that it was hard to find a time for everyone, and couldn’t I just find a spot to pull over at the time to talk? I absolutely hate that I said yes. That day, I was tired from driving and mad that I had to pull off the road, and then pull myself together enough to talk with what turned out to be, two major company assholes. I didn’t even want the job after that interview.

    The second was when I checked an incoming text from my previous boss while I was on the road (which I know is BAD, but I saw that is was my boss and panicked.). Apparently, I had made a mistake the day before I left and he was letting me know how angry he was that he had to fix things in my absence. The rest of the drive, I was not only distracted but felt pressure to respond, even though I was on vacation and couldn’t do anything to remedy the mistake…essentially, I was just a punching bag for him.

    Bottom line: I now have a rule to never take work-related calls or texts while on the road, even just driving around town. Nothing they have to say is worth your life, or others, or even just your sense of peace while traveling.

  88. Pomona Sprout*

    I can’t help wondering where this took place. As of April 2020, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 24 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories. In other words, what LW’s boss insisted she do is literally illegal in about half of the US, and probably (I hope) many other countries as well. Even if it was not against the wall in LW’s locality, it was against every definition of common sense, as well as highly dangerous.

    I’m not going to dump on the LW, though. I’m too familiar with the brain freeze that can set in when a boss orders an employee to do something impossible or ridiculous and the idea of directly defying them is just … not something that feels like an option at the time. It’s a recipe for utter mindless panic. I get that. I will therefore say, “Shame, shame, shame!!!” on that boss for making such an outrageous demand. Some people DO NOT deserve to be managers, and that idiot is definitely one of them.

    Grrrr… I am absolutely furious that someone who is stupid enough to order an employee to do what this boss ordered LW to do is in a position of responsibility AT ALL. They obviously do not have the level of sound judgment necessary for such a position.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I so agree. This comes up often enough where the boss asks an employee to do an illegal or unethical thing and the LW said they just froze. OP, you are not alone here, there’s plenty of us around.

      Alison has a format for these things that I think is just great. “Since X is not in keeping with the law, I don’t think*we* would want anyone breaking the law in the course of going about their work day. So let’s consider alternative solution Y….”
      Notice the use of “we” and “let’s” meaning “let us”. The use of plural pronounces takes on a collaborative tone, where *we* work together to make a stronger solution.

      This is a handy thing to keep in mind. I have had to use it several times over the years. Practice in front of the mirror if need be, it can be odd/clumsy feeling at first. We have to get use to hearing ourselves say this stuff.

  89. LizM*

    One thing that helps me when I’m in a situation where I wish I had stood up for myself is to practice what I would say if it comes up again, and to talk to my supervisor about it. Talking about it when not in the heat of the moment helps me have a plan for when it’s urgent. I think having that conversation, if done tactfully, may help your supervisor see how unreasonable they were being.

    “I know that you would like us to be on video for these calls, but it’s actually illegal to take a video call while driving in our state. Not only is it incredibly unsafe, if something were to happen, the company could be held liable. Having had some time to think about it, I realize this wasn’t a good option. I try to schedule my time so that I’m not driving when I should be on a call, but if it is unavoidable and I can’t pull over, would you prefer me to be in “driving mode,” without the video, or should I let you know I’m going to have to miss the call?”

    Her reaction will also let you know if she realizes how unreasonable she was being, or if she really did expect you to drive an hour on a video call (in which case, I’d start looking for a new job, because a boss expecting you to break the law in such an obvious way is not going to be reasonable in other areas, and it’s only a matter of time where you’re in a similar situation).

    And then I would make an effort to avoid being in the car in the future. I don’t know what kind of meeting this was, if it was mostly “listen to your boss read notes that could easily be put into an email,” or if it was more interactive. But I have had to have conversations with some members of my team about time management, and that teleworking doesn’t literally mean they can work from anywhere while multitasking, and I expect them to be mentally present on our team calls, especially where their input is needed. But taking your word for it that you could have participated in driving mode, that should be have been acceptable for a one-time situation.

  90. Jennifer Juniper*

    Yikes! I hope she doesn’t make you come to work in a snowstorm, OP! Or insist you swim to work during a flash flood.

  91. Big Biscuit*

    These are not the ideal times, but if I was the OP I would start job hunting. This is seriously disturbing. Almost seems like a psychotic attempt at punishing OP. I have a high level boss who insists we are all on video for calls. I turn it off now and then just for the hell of it. I noticed when I started doing it others did also. Unless there are documents or graphics that are germaine to the topic and video is necessary, I’m not in the business of feeding others egos. I’ve also been with the company long enough and am respected enough to get away with “little dings” like this, so I’m not recommending it for everyone.

  92. ResuMAYDAY*

    This situation beautifully illustrates the advantage of age. 50 year old me (present day) would have no trouble clearly telling this manager she would get zero eye contact from me. But 20-30 year old me? That would be intimidating, for sure. Please just trust your gut when these choices present themselves. 99% of the time that I’ve made a regrettable decision, I can think back and realize I ignored warning signs, or didn’t want to risk being labeled a trouble maker. Just remember that when someone demands something of you that doesn’t feel right, they are putting their selfishness above your well-being. This is not the last insane demand your boss will make of you, because I can’t believe this was an isolated event. Start preparing right now how you’ll handle the next one.

  93. Random IT person on the internet*

    Boss is dumb. Boss could have said – fine, find a parking space and we do the meeting with audio and video when you are safely parked.
    OP should have said – okay, but let me find a parking spot first

    But – in this case – Boss should have made the decision to either NOT let OP participate this once, or wait until OP was safely parked somewhere.

    That said – would this be something to flag to HR? “Boss knew i was driving, still insisted on me participating in a bleeping video call” – as this would cast some doubts on the decision making skills and risk assesment skills of OP.

    Should this happen again – set your phone to airplane mode – and after claim technical issue / no coverage etc – as that`s next to impossible to dispute.

    And Zoom? the hacked app?

  94. Jo*

    The only thing I can think of that explains this, other than the explanation that your boss is a jerk, is that she meant for you to pull over somewhere or thought that’s what you would do. If that’s not the case, then she is just a huge jerk. I’d think about how you would address this if it happens again – whether that’s saying you can’t have the camera on/make eye contact when you’re driving, or pulling over before carrying on the call. I can understand why you did what you did, but I think you’ve realised it’s a situation that can’t happen again so it would be good to be prepared as to how you would handle this if it recurs.

  95. Jojo*

    You cannot undo what has already been done. However. If this occurs in future tell your boss it is illegal, as in a steep ticket from police. Also, speak to HR on this ridiculous and illegal act your boss demanded. Whether you file a complaint or not, the situation needs to be addressed.this will avoid future problems in this area.

  96. Jennifer*

    Hi OP – I have found that what works for me is to prepare simple statements in my head beforehand if I know I have an unreasonable boss or other authority figure to deal with in the future. Even something as simple as, “I’m sorry, that’s not possible for me to do at the moment.” You may have to keep repeating yourself until they get the point, but decide ahead of time that you won’t budge. I have a tendency to freeze sometimes also and this helps a lot.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      What would you do if the boss writes you up for insubordination after you say that? Or fires you for not being a good team player?

  97. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    A friend went to an interview and was asked, “if I order you to do something that’s against the law, would you do it?”. The friend said no. The hiring manager promptly walked him out, saying that he was looking for someone who’ll respect the hierarchy.
    The friend later found out that the position had been open for two years. Wonder why.

  98. Mary M.*

    It sounds to me as if the boss was actually trying to PUNISH the OP for not being physically present at the meeting and requiring inappropriate participation while driving!

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