I recently read an article in the Austin American Statesman that got me thinking. Back in 2007, a trucker, Louis Martinez, was fired from his job for "refusing to drive a truck carrying a load of steel shelving that was stacked higher than allowed and was improperly secured with broken straps." According to the Statesman:
It was the fifth time the company, Safeshred Inc., had asked him to drive an improperly loaded or permitted truck, the Supreme Court acknowledged. After pointing out the safety concerns, Martinez agreed to drive the truck but soon returned after feeling the load shift, the court said, adding that he was fired after refusing an order to return to the road.
Had Martinez chosen to drive the truck and been hurt, he could have sued Safeshred and sought punitive damages based on "the employer's malicious intent in ordering the illegal act," the ruling stated.
But by refusing to drive, Martinez never performed the illegal, and potentially dangerous, act he was ordered to perform. "Thus, allowing punitive damages based on the unrealized consequences of the illegal directive would amount to impermissibly punishing the employer for harm the plaintiff never actually endures," Lehrmann wrote.
So, to recap: employee refuses to do something dangerous, gets fired, and would have been better off if he had just done the dangerous thing and sued for damages after the predictable bad thing happened. Sound familiar?