Can You Get Fired for Missing Work During a Hurricane Due to Mandatory Evacuation?

(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — What happens to your job if you flee the path of a hurricane due to a mandatory evacuation order? What if you would simply rather be safe than sorry? Many Floridians who have evacuated are currently considering this very question and are concerned about the status of their employment upon returning home.

Fleeing your comfort zone to save your life — and dealing with the uncertainty of the status of your belongings that will greet you upon your return — is already an experience most people would prefer to avoid. The stress of not knowing whether you will be fired or penalized for following mandatory evacuation orders adds insult to injury.

Shockingly, there is currently no law in Florida that protects employees who choose to evacuate, even if their evacuation is mandatory. According to Marc Edelman, an attorney with the Morgan & Morgan law firm in the state, it might be considered “unlawful” to require employees to travel and work during a dangerous weather event such as a hurricane. But he says that “oddly enough, in a case like this, we won’t really know until it happens.” This information doesn’t necessarily ease the worries of evacuees who have left their jobs behind.

After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, many residents were forced to evacuate their flooded homes or simply could not physically get to work without risking their safety. Unfortunately, this caused some Texans to lose their jobs. In nearly all U.S. states there is no job security for this type of situation. People can be “fired for good, bad, or no reason at all,” according to Paul Secunda, a law professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who assisted workers affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Some Florida businesses made the choice to stay open during the storm and expect their employees to brave the potentially deadly weather for noble causes such as making pizza or serving breakfast.

Some Floridians took to Twitter to vent their frustrations:

While there is federal funding available to people who have faced job challenges as a result of a natural disaster, the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program just adds one more thing to the already full plates of those affected by these disasters.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that workers have safe working conditions but does not specify any regulations when it comes to working during potentially deadly weather like hurricanes. While lawyers think affected employees could make legitimate cases in the sense that coming to work and/or working during a life-threatening storm violates their right to a safe workplace, the assumption that affected workers have the time, means, and funds to do so is impudent.

When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has access to intelligent tools to predict the path and severity of weather events days in advance, there is little reason to require workers to risk their lives for the benefit of turning a profit. With so many major natural disasters hitting the U.S. this year, this blatant disregard for human safety and preference for revenue over people should be scrutinized.

During any major weather event or natural disaster, victims are left to pick up the pieces of broken lives, destroyed homes, and lost possessions. Unfortunately, many of those affected will also be forced to search for work elsewhere or file legal claims against their less than understanding employers. As climate change increases the chances of major disasters such as massive wildfires and deadly hurricanes, it may be time for lawmakers to consider protections for workers affected by these events.

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