Commuting Pan Am-demonium

Should employees be held responsible for ensuring they get to work on time during events like the Pan Am Games?

By Jeffrey R. Smith

For several years now, officials in the Greater Toronto Area have been getting ready to host the 2015 Pan Am Games. The Games are now almost here and the preparation shifts to actually managing and running them, including the logistical challenges that comes with more than 7,000 athletes, numerous coaches and athletic officials and sports fans travelling to the region. Employers also face challenges, as many are concerned with how increased traffic demands will affect employees coming to work.

The Province of Ontario and Games officials have been heavily promoting options residents of the Toronto area have in trying to make things a little easier on themselves and everybody else. Ads are everywhere encouraging people to take transit or carpool to work, or take vacation if possible to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. Some employers are making similar suggestions to their employees.

But some employees can’t or won’t take these suggestions, or maybe they will but it won’t help much. How much leeway should they have if they consistently arrive at work late during a special event such as the Pan Am Games?

Obviously, employers will have to allow some flexibility, as traffic is something out of everyone’s control. If an employee is late to work because of bad traffic or some other event that negatively affects the normal commute, she isn’t really to blame. But if the traffic is caused by something that will be known ahead of time and happens regularly for a period of time — such as the two-and-a-half weeks of the Pan Am Games — can the employer expect the employee to make adjustments? If the commute is 30 minutes longer during the Games, should the employee leave 30 minutes earlier?

Employees who still report for work during such an event will likely be expected to make some adjustment to try to get to work on time. If they are consistently late, it can affect the employer’s business. If an employee is consistently late under normal conditions, it can be grounds for discipline. But if the employee during an event like the Pan Am Games doesn’t bother to make an adjustment to the increased traffic and comes in later, is that grounds for discipline?

In such circumstances, a frustrated employer may consider disciplinary action, but care should be taken. When circumstances out of an employee’s control cause the employee to be late, the employee can’t be held culpable for tardiness. But if the employee fails to adjust her departure time knowing that it will make her late for work, perhaps there could be something amounting to misconduct — particularly if the employer calls it to the employee’s attention and the employee does nothing. After all, if the employee moved farther away, she would be expected to leave for work earlier in order to arrive on time. If she didn’t, then discipline could be warranted.

On the other hand, when the event causing traffic disruption is temporary like the Pan Am Games, maybe it’s easier just to be flexible during the relatively short period of time things are affected.

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