Hurricane Irma did a number on South Florida and the Keys and while many people have no power and damage (myself included), we are all getting back to work. Over the next few days I’m going to focus my posts on post-Irma employment law issues.
Before and during the storm, I noticed some companies were getting bad press for requiring their employees (mostly low paid non-exempt [hourly] service workers) to come into work when Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, was imposing mandatory evacuations in many areas.
First, requiring employees to work during mandatory evacuations means bad press on social media and in the news. These days, news stories can quickly become viral and can negatively impact your company brand and your business.
Second, while there is no Florida state law that prevents termination of at-will employees who fail to report to work (even during an emergency) there are other protections for employees.
Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) provides guidance to employers and employees regarding hurricane preparations and post-storm response. Also, under the OSHA Act, it is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who demands a safe and healthful workplace. Obviously there are exceptions to the OSHA rules for first responders and some government workers.
While the OSHA anti-retaliation provision may not protect an employee who evacuates, if you are demanding that your employees work in an area where there is a mandatory evacuation your employees could certainly claim that the workplace was not safe at that time. Employers in this situation may want to consider closing their operations so employees can evacuate or prepare for the impending storm. Alternatively, companies may want to ask for volunteers to work during an emergency situation and/or not impose harsh penalties on employees who are no-shows.
Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims. You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.