Legal ramifications of being arrested while following employers orders?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Legal ramifications of being arrested while following employers orders?

We work for a company that employs us to do street canvassing that is to say we go door-to-door knocking not trying to sell prospective clients, but trying to get them to sign up as hosts for a service similar to AirBnB. We are told by our superiors in the company exactly when and where to go and engage in this activity. We do not have a say in the door knocking area whatsoever. We have also been trained in how to knock and sign people up. Yesterday while going door to door, we were stopped by the police and told that in this specific municipality it was illegal to knock door to door and that we could be arrested and heavily fined with a misdemeanor charge. They said that we would be held personally responsible and arrested and not our employer. We managed to sweet talk our way out of being handcuffed and taken down town, promising never to come back, but we have had our faith shaken in our employers. We had reasonably trusted that since our employer decided where and when to go and how to do it, and only told us about 12 hours before each shift where the specific area would be, they had gotten all of the proper permissions and were in compliance with the law. This company has been running for 2 years. They told us they had the mayor’s permission. I believe they knew or should have known they were sending us to engage in illegal activity and decided to do it anyways. We now fear we could end up with arrests and misdemeanors on our records if we continue to work and they again choose to run afoul of the law by sending us to an area where a permit is required. What can we legally do about our situation? What if we had been arrested? Would our employer have liability and have to pay our bails and fines? What if we ultimately got jail time?

Asked on August 24, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

No, the employer would not be liable for your bail, fines, legal costs, etc. if you were arrested, and it is NOT a legal defense to criminal liability to say that you were following your boss's orders: your boss cannot legally order you to break the law (i.e. the boss telling you break the law is not a legal defense or justification for you), and if you do break the law, you are personally accountable for it. You need to make sure that what you are doing is not illegal, and if it's a choice between possibly losing your job for not doing what they want vs. breaking the law and facing potential criminal liability, you need to decide for yourself what is more important to you--then live with the consequences.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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