December 2, 2022

Emergency Operations

Storms and the Workplace

Labor lawyers advise business owners to make a plan that explains to workers how the company will handle staffing, pay and absences if a storm hits.

Cynthia Barnett | 6/1/2006
After Hurricane Wilma roared through her Jupiter neighborhood last October, Kellie Clark, an appointment scheduler at a gas company about 25 miles away, couldn't make it to work. Downed trees and power lines made the drive dangerous. Moreover, she couldn't leave her two disabled children in their darkened house. She tried repeatedly to call the company, but no one answered. She figured the business was closed. When she finally made it in the Friday after the hurricane, she was promptly fired.

"To this day, I get so angry when I think about it," Clark says.

Clark has little recourse: The gas company had a perfectly legal right to fire her for missing three days of work. "You can have Gov. Bush on television admonishing you to stay home and stay off the highways," says Brian Buckstein of Dobin & Jenks of Jupiter. "But legally, your employer can order you to come in to work."

Businesses can order employees to work -- even if authorities are advising people to stay off the roads.

Buckstein thinks Florida lawmakers should change the law to prohibit employers from firing or otherwise discriminating against employees who miss work in the course of following emergency instructions, such as evacuation orders. Other states, including Texas, have such provisions. But other lawyers contend the existing laws are fine; they say problems arise when employees, employers or both aren't aware of them.

Tags: Politics & Law, Around Florida, Government/Politics & Law

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