Winter Weather Requires Employer Diligence

Liz Carey

New York, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) – Ensuring employees have a clear way to get into their place of employment to avoid injury is an employer’s responsibility, even if they’re in a leased building, workers’ compensation attorneys say.

During winter snow and ice can become a hazard to employees as they enter and exit work. Slips and falls in parking lots are one of the biggest workers’ compensation claims year-round, said Edward Guldi, Workers’ Compensation Attorney at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., and those claims increase during the winter months.

But even if your business is in a space where the landlord is responsible for clearing off the parking lot, their failure to clear the parking lot or sidewalks does not eliminate an employer’s liability for a workers’ compensation claim.

“Many times an employer won’t be responsible for cleaning the parking lot because the lease of space in the building encompasses multiple entities and the landlord will be the one who is responsible (for cleaning and maintenance of the parking lot),” Guldi said. “But I want to make clear something… if you have an employee who slips and falls and hurts themselves in the parking lot, yes the landlord was responsible for cleaning and maintenance and it’s not an employer owned premises but… that doesn’t mean you can escape liability if one of your workers is injured.”

In that case, Guldi said, the employee can file suit against the landlord, as well as file a workers’ compensation claim.

Keeping parking lots, sidewalks and all areas of ingress and egress cleared is important, he said, because that is where most falls happen. Additionally, ensuring that floors inside the building are clean and well-maintained is also important so employees, and customers, don’t slip or fall.

Other concerns, he said, are for employees who have to be outside when the temperatures drop. Guldi warned employers to make sure to give employees working outside ample time in warming areas – like the cabs of trucks or inside structures – to ensure they don’t develop hypothermia or frostbite.

And when severe weather strikes, he said, the best option is to close the business down.

“Even if your business is an indoor environment, you do not want to be liable for motor vehicle accidents or other action that can happen if there is a major weather event,” he said. “You know, when in doubt, if it looks like you should close, go ahead and close.”

Guldi said the lost business time would likely be less than your liability should something happen.

“Putting it in the views of the employer who thinks it’s going to be less economically damaging to them (to stay open and risk an injury) — it’s not,” he said. “If someone is working for you and they lose a finger to frostbite, you’re going to be responsible, regardless of the circumstances.”

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