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Detroit employers face unique hurdles finding eligible drivers

| Aug 16, 2017 | Business Law |

Is your Detroit-area company suffering from a labor shortage?

Odds are good that the people who’d love to work for you are out there, but they’re having trouble paying off old traffic fines in order to legally drive again.

Back in 2003, Michigan’s solution to a budget crisis was to create something called “Driver Responsibility Fees,” which ultimately netted the state millions a year — and it put thousands of drivers out of work because they couldn’t afford the fees on top of the tickets they’d already accrued for a traffic violation.

All together, less than 22,000 Detroit drivers owe a combined $27.1 million in fees they can’t afford to pay. The backlash from both residents and many corporate executives, including those represented by the Workforce Development Board in Detroit, has finally pushed the legislature into introducing a reduction plan — but fees incurred prior to the end of 2015, are ineligible for the program.

There’s little in the way of relief for those trapped in the cycle of poverty these fees create. Judges aren’t permitted to offer leniency or waive the fees for extenuating circumstances. Community service can’t be used in lieu of cash payment, a system common in other states. Goodwill Industries, the charity organization, helps about 50 people a year get out from under their fines if they owe less than $1000 — but that’s not helping businesses that are still seeing a massive shortage of workers. Additionally, many employees report that they’ve had to turn down better paying jobs that would help them repay their traffic debts simply because they’re unable to legally drive.

Executives who are looking for applicants for commercial truck driving, deliveries and heavy equipment operation are especially hit hard by the problem — but it’s essentially an issue that could affect any business owner in Detroit. Anyone who has an employee driving for their business has to stay on top of possible suspensions due to the law just in case an employee that was licensed falls prey to the fees.

As a business owner, it’s important to remember that you bear liability for any accidents caused by your employees during the performance of their job duties. For more information about the issues you face as an employer, including ways to limit the risks to your business, it helps to consult an attorney familiar with employment law and business planning.

Source: Bridge, “The latest hurdle to employment in Michigan? Traffic fines.,” Chad Livengood, Aug. 10, 2017

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