September 15, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

In a state that requires all motorcycle riders under 25 to wear a helmet, may an employer terminate an employee who refuses, claiming that it is his Constitutional right to ride without one?

That was “Kirk’s” question.

“I manage a courier/messenger service in Missouri and need your help. In our state, motorcycle helmets are only required for riders under 25. Some of our employees have motorcycles which enable quickly reaching a destination in rush-hour traffic. ‘Reggie’ is one of them. He is 23, married to ‘Charlie,’ and they have a beautiful 5 year-old daughter.

“We require wearing helmets, but he has refused, claiming it is his right, and ‘They interfere with my sight.’ I told him it is the law and he has an obligation to his family to not increase his risk of injury, or death, nor to expose our company to unnecessary workers compensation claims or increased insurance rates.

“I’m sure he would discuss this with you. Maybe you can get through to him. I’ve read what you’ve done in other situations.”

I agreed to a Zoom session with Kirk, Reggie and Charlie.

What is the Legal Posture of this Situation?

Motorcycle attorneys I spoke with said, “With a properly fitted helmet, there are no sight issues.” One Kansas City attorney commented, “Spend five minutes with a widow and her children whose husband and father apparently thought it was his Constitutional right to send his family into poverty.”

Next, as discussed in a recent You and the Law, the refusal to wear PPE – personal protective equipment — a helmet, is a basis for termination.

Our Zoom Session

I began our discussion by saying, “I need your help. Let’s all listen to each other and not just hang up in anger. Agreed? Everyone said, “Yes.”

“We all wear seatbelts when driving, and know it is a good thing, right?” — Yes, each replied.

“Our situation is identical to the same arguments against automobile seat belts decades ago. But I have a feeling that what we are dealing with goes well beyond wearing a helmet.

“Reggie, I understand that you feel requiring a motorcycle helmet takes away from your freedom and constitutional rights. Am I correct?”

— Yes, that’s how I feel.

“And, you’re right! In a way, it does, as I will explain, but first, you were high school sweethearts, and everyone said your marriage wouldn’t last. But they were wrong, weren’t they?”

— Mr. Beaver, you got that right.

“These are difficult times for you Charlie, because Reggie doesn’t need a motorcycle, but rides one and without a helmet. You are terrified of losing him, of your daughter losing her dad.”

— Yes, I am.

Health and Safety Laws

“Government should act for the public good. Requiring seat belts and rabies vaccinations for our dogs is an example of health and safety laws which are obligations that protect us and that we owe to others. But some people feel these are infringements on our constitutional rights, but I am certain you all agree, right?”

— Of course, was the reply.

Raising the Temperature

“Reggie, look at Charlie and tell me what you fear most.”

— That something happens to her.

“Charlie, same question.”

— Losing him because of that horrible motorcycle. I am afraid each time he gets on it, especially without a helmet. I love him. He is my world and I don’t want our daughter to grow up without his love,” she said, sobbing.

“Reggie, now, picture riding your motorcycle and discovering that asphalt really is harder than an un-helmeted head. You are now permanently brain-damaged, with a family that has lost its main income source.

“Look at Charlie. For all those wonderful years she has loved you and given you Julie, your beautiful daughter who was just crazy about her daddy, and then the accident changed everything. It was a thief that stole you from them.

“After a decent interval, while tucking her in bed, another voice says to Julie ‘Sweet dreams, honey,’ and she replies, ‘Love you, daddy.’ And then, Charlie shares what had been your bed.

“Reggie, I was 21, riding a friend’s motorcycle on Highway 126 near Santa Paula, entered a curve covered in sand, lost control and witnesses said that I hit the pavement head first.

“The visible memory of that incident was a destroyed helmet and today, an almost invisible scar on my chin, the only part of my head that somehow came into contact with the road.

“It was the last time that I rode a motorcycle.”

I closed our Zoom session with this question:

“Reggie, who do you love more – your wife and daughter, or the motorcycle?”

Later that Day

Julie called my cell phone. “Mr. Beaver, immediately after our Zoom chat, Reggie had me follow him to a motorcycle dealer. He SOLD the bike! You saved our marriage!”

— Thanks, but please give Kirk a big hug, Charlie. He saved your marriage.