Every business and their employees are bound by state and Federal laws, but sometimes bosses demand team members break those laws. For instance, a truck driver in California claims he was fired for refusing to answer text messages from his boss while driving. Texting while driving is illegal in California. The trucker says he asked his boss to call him instead so he could use his Bluetooth headset, but his boss refused.
The irony is if the trucker did text back and caused an accident, his boss would have been liable for the damage. Most state laws hold employers liable for accidents that occur while an employee is performing duties within the scope of their employment.
Since accidents involving trucks are often more severe than passenger vehicles, truckers are held to higher standards within the law. For example, in most states, 0.08% is the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC). According to Becker Law, truck drivers in Kentucky are breaking the law with a BAC of just 0.04%. These higher standards are spelled out in company rulebooks, but individual supervisors might ignore them.
In addition to truckers being forced to break the law in the course of their work, supervisors in the food industry frequently require employees to break the law. For example, supermarkets instruct employees to change dates on packages of meat, scrape mold off pastries, and repackage old cakes as single slices to get rid of them.
When you know you’re right, don’t fight your boss
If you’ve been asked to break the law, when you know you’re right, don’t fight directly with your boss. They probably know they’re wrong and are trying to maintain their position of power. If your boss won’t budge on the issue, calmly get a piece of paper, ask them to be specific about what they want you to do, and take notes. Keep this as a record of what you were instructed to do. Ask your boss to sign or initial it if possible.
If the situation is escalating, be polite and agreeable until you can get out of there and then call a lawyer. For example, say you’re working a retail job, and your boss insists you don’t get a meal break for working a 6-hour shift, but state law says you do. Ask them for clarification, write down company policy, and allow your break to get skipped.
At the end of the day, consult a lawyer. By allowing your break to be skipped, you’ll have evidence to back up your claim. If you force your way into a break, it will be on record that you received it. In that case, you’ll have a harder time proving you were being denied breaks.
Whatever law is being broken, find a way to remove yourself from the situation peacefully until you can get legal help. Don’t walk out of your shift and take a break without permission. Even though it’s illegal to deny your break, if you wander off without permission then you’ve violated the company’s rules and can be legally terminated for doing so. The only way to recover from the situation is to hire a lawyer, and unless you have a big case, it won’t be easy to pursue.
Go to the top of the command chain
Regardless of your company’s chain of command, when your boss is unwilling to follow the rules, don’t be afraid to go higher. Before presenting the issue, ask the higher up for clarification on company policy regarding the issue in question. Chances are, they’ll tell you company policy is a match to the law. Once you have that confirmation, let that higher up know your boss is requiring you to violate the law.
Instead of making threats to the higher up about suing the company, ask questions. Ask what you should do and if they can handle the situation for you. Be collaborative, not confrontational. If they don’t take care of the situation, or if they don’t see a problem with breaking the law (like texting and driving), then politely acknowledge what they’ve said and immediately call a lawyer.
You might be held personally responsible if you break the law
Although businesses are often held liable for the actions of employees while on duty, you’re not completely off the hook. For example, if your boss is engaging in Federally illegal activity and you’re coerced into participating, and a crime occurs, you could go to jail, too.
Don’t assume the law is being broken
Take care to find out if the law is being broken before threatening a lawsuit. Better yet, if the law is being violated don’t threaten a lawsuit. File one quietly and let it be a surprise.