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cldukes06

Unsafe Work/Hostile Work Environment?

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I have been looking for employment law surrounding my unique set of circumstances, but figured I should just ask the professionals.

I no longer feel safe at my work. I'm an investigator, and while I won't out the company I work for, I feel as if they no longer "care" or even attempt to guarantee my safety and that of my equipment, all over a few bucks.

Two days ago, I was involved in a near-automobile accident in my company's vehicle. I had to slam (and I mean SLAM) on the brakes to avoid a tractor-trailer rig that blew out a tire. While I thought everything was okay, I go to start investigating my case (private, not government affilated) and notice that my brakes are started grinding extremely bad. While on the case and following up on some leads, my brake pressure suddenly disappeared, and my pedal was now in the floor...with my hazard brake light now appearing. I alert my two bosses, and they tell me to just get it looked after 8 hours (what we billed the client for). I figured, 'umm, okay...fine.'

I finish my work day, and take it into the shop. Basically, I blew a caliper, destroyed a rotor, needed the other turned, my back brakes needed adjusting, and my master cylinder was possibly gone. Well, after a LOT of back and forth...the small tire place wanted to repair both calipers/pads, replace one rotor, turn the other, replace my 2 front tires (which are nearly down to the wire), and adjust my rear brakes. One of my bosses tells me (after I tell him this) that the shop is just trying to overbill me, and to only have one caliper, both pads, rotor replaced, and the other turned. Cut my bill in half. No rear brake adjustment, no new tires.

They tell me it'll be done at noon tomorrow (because they have to wait for a part), but my other boss says I have to start at 8:00. After explaining to him I no longer have brakes in my company vehicle, he asks if it really was that imperative that I get it fixed? I say YES, I HAVE NO BRAKES. He still tells me not to wait on the master cylinder and get it out of the shop first thing in the morning.

Am I legally allowed to refuse to work until my van is safe, since my front tires are still bald, and it's too soon to tell if the master cylinder needs to be replaced? Since it's primarily surveillance oriented, I HAVE to stay with my vehicle. The car place said my tires could go out at any minute on the highway, and smashing the brakes like I had to do again without wearing them in could very well break again. I've already been robbed on this job once, and work won't give me the time to get my police report from said robbery, nor will they give me time to replace my license/SS card.

I have been applying for 50-60 other positions since January, and have attempted to raise numerous issues regarding my employment contract...all to deaf ears. I can't quit, because I have to have the money at this point...so what can I do? I don't feel safe anymore, and think that the company prioritizes saving face with the client/few hundred dollars = the worth of my value to them.

From what I've been researching, it seems I have no claim whatsoever, since both states (where I work and where the company is HQ'd) are employment-at-will states.

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If you have an employment contract, it doesn't much matter that the State is "at will". Contracts for employment supersede the "at will" employment relationship. You need to review your contract to determine what, if anything, the employer is required to provide in terms of viable transportation. You also need to determine what "cause" you could be terminated for.

Not having your contract in front of me, I couldn't help you with that.

You're an investigator, so you know the three major requirements of working a case - document, document, document. It would behoove you to get a copy of the vehicle inspection / repair estimate for the vehicle, and take photos of the damaged / worn parts.

One basic legal premise is "notice". If you put your employer on notice (in writing) that the vehicle is unsafe, and possibly in violation of equipment requirements set by motor vehicle statute, you would later have legal standing for civil action, if the need arises. Provide copies of the documentation and photos to the employer.

Since you indicate that you work in one State, but the HQ is in another State, I'd have to guess that this is not a small operation. As such, it is highly likely, especially considering the nature of the work your company does, that they have a person who handles "Risk Management". I'd suggest you make contact with that person at HQ and provide the same "notice".

I couldn't advise whether or not you should refuse to work until the vehicle is brought to safe standards. That would strictly be your call, after you review your employment contract.

I am not an attorney. My comments are made based on my training and experience as well as diligent research. I am also not perfect, therefore, I will accept constructive criticism, if tendered with respect.

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"If you have an employment contract, it doesn't much matter that the State is "at will".  Contracts for employment supersede the "at will" employment relationship.  You need to review your contract to determine what, if anything, the employer is required to provide in terms of viable transportation.  You also need to determine what "cause" you could be terminated for."

- I knew that a contract superseded at-will, but it's more like an 8-page document just talking about basic job requirements and training and pay raises. Company has to provide a surveillance van; it's the Company's property and we're responsible for reporting to a fleet manager in keeping the van maintained. Though it is out of our own pocket to be reimbursed by said manager. Said manager also HAS to approve the repairs or risk no reimbursement, so even though he knows the tires are bad, he said specifically not to worry about them (I have records of texts.)

"Not having your contract in front of me, I couldn't help you with that.

You're an investigator, so you know the three major requirements of working a case - document, document, document.  It would behoove you to get a copy of the vehicle inspection / repair estimate for the vehicle, and take photos of the damaged / worn parts."

- Yes. I'm also a law student, though criminal/privacy law is my forte, I know nothing about employment law. As such, I have estimates, potential estimates for EVERYTHING to get fixed, and the mechanic's name and phone number for future contact. I have the documenting down :).

"One basic legal premise is "notice".  If you put your employer on notice (in writing) that the vehicle is unsafe, and possibly in violation of equipment requirements set by motor vehicle statute, you would later have legal standing for civil action, if the need arises.  Provide copies of the documentation and photos to the employer."

- This is where it gets sticky, because I don't know of any motor vehicle statute listed in my state saying you're legally obligated to purchase new tires when you're are just worn. Only statutes I'm aware of in my state regard safe operation, and that equipment on the vehicle cannot endanger any lives of other motorists. So far, it doesn't...it just could because I could have a blowout at any time. So I don't even know if I'd have legal standing unless I were to get injured and my Company has to pay my medical expenses/expenses of others should I cause an accident.

"Since you indicate that you work in one State, but the HQ is in another State, I'd have to guess that this is not a small operation.  As such, it is highly likely, especially considering the nature of the work your company does, that they have a person who handles "Risk Management".  I'd suggest you make contact with that person at HQ and provide the same "notice"."

- It is a large operation. Country wide. Though the HQ is VERY small. It's not like a corporate building per se, it's a metal shed with like 30-40 employees (thats just dedicated to the office, actual employee numbers range well over 100) doing background/pretext. There is no risk manager; just a company president and the owner of the company...who is some joe schmoe property owner that wanted to run this business for sake of money.

"I couldn't advise whether or not you should refuse to work until the vehicle is brought to safe standards.  That would strictly be your call, after you review your employment contract."

- I don't have a copy of my contract in front of me, that's at home. Though I do know nothing in this contract states that I can refuse to work until the van is brought to normal mechanical order. Only recourse I THINK I have is a complaint to OSHA; but until then, I am too afraid to blemish my employee record or give them a reason to fire me, so I'm stuck until the Company finally pays me to get my tires fixed.

If you need anything else, feel free to let me know.

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UPDATE

Thank you for your time in helping me, but I'm afraid on my "contract" that it says the following:

"This list will specify the major terms of your employment with our company. This list is not intended to be all-inclusive. This is NOT a contract of employment."

It seems I do not have a leg to stand on. Thanks for your time though.

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