With the return of winter weather to Western New York, it's beyond time for us to make sure we're ready to power through the cold and snow that we're going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future.

Living in the northeast means that there will be more than one occasion when the weather impacts our day-to-day lives, and it's already happened so far this cold weather season.

In the few snow storms that have happened already during the 2023/24 winter season, we've seen schools having to close or be delayed, along with travel advisories issued in different municipalities.

Since we know for a fact this is going to happen again, I'm sure it's probably time to ask the question.

Can The Government Ban People From Driving?

When the weather gets bad enough, government officials are empowered by law to adjust travel and movement rules in an area. This often happens when weather conditions make it nearly impossible to travel around the region. When this happens, officials can issue a State of Emergency, they can close the New York State Thruway, and they can issue a dirivng ban making it illegal to travel on public roads.

When this happens, officials can restrict driving to just Public Safety staff like Police, Firefighters, Paramedics, and other public works staff like plow drivers. This is usually done to try to keep the public safe while staffers and government officials work to clear the roads or make things safe for the general public. Exemptions to the travel bans are usually granted to other essential workers like utility crews and medical professionals.

Otherwise, a travel ban means no driving unless you fall into one of those categories, or you have some verifiable emergency, This is different from an travel advisory, which when issued, is meant to warn people that it maybe unsafe but people can proceed caution.

Can My Employer Force Me To Come To Work When There Is A Driving Ban

Unless you are deemed an essential employee or are traveling for some sort of emergency situation, it is illegal in New York State for you to drive during a travel ban.

During the 2022/23 Buffalo Blizzard, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz spoke plainly about what should happen during a travel ban.

If you live, work, or would have to travel through an area with a travel ban, it is illegal for an employer to force someone to come to work. This applies when the company is in a banned area or if the employee lives in a banned area.

If caught driving during a travel ban, it's a Class B Misdemeanor offense. If someone is convicted of driving during a travel ban, they are subject to a $500 fine and up to three months in jail.

The National Labor Relations Act and the New York State Department of Labor have issued directives stating that an employer cannot retaliate against an employee who acts in good faith when road conditions are too bad to travel on.

It’s definitely not advisable if you’re an employer to force or mandate an employee to violate a travel ban, because at that point you’re encouraging a violation of the law.
-Ari Kwiatkowski, Counsel, Barclay Damon

So, no, your employer cannot force you to come to work during a travel ban. You can contact the New York State Department of Labor for more information about your rights as an employee in New York.

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