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Can You Be Fired From Work During an Extreme Weather Event?

SEP 13, 2018 | COWORKER.ORG

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Hurricane Florence and other dangerous weather events raise questions about workers’ rights during a natural disaster.

With Hurricane Florence poised to bring “unprecedented flooding” and “historical rainfall”¹ to the Carolinas this week, many workers are sharing how their employers are reacting to the storm.

One Twitter user reports that a Walmart in Sumter, South Carolina plans to operate at normal hours during the hurricane, raising safety concerns. Another Twitter user says that Lay-Z-Boy is docking worker pay by making them use vacation time in order to protect themselves from extreme weather conditions. In the worst cases, a few people claim that some employers are threatening to terminate workers who miss work due to the storm.

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As a result, people are asking“What are my rights at work during a hurricane or other natural disaster?” Most states in the U.S. have few legal protections for workers in the face of natural disasters. According to the Society for Human Resource Management², employers have full legal reign to terminate workers who do not show up to work due to inclement weather in most states. Furthermore, companies do not have to pay non-exempt employees (employees who are subject to overtime) for hours that they do not work as a result of a storm or other natural disaster. Finally, employers can require exempt employees who stay home due to the weather to take leave without pay or use vacation time when they do not show up to work. The U.S. Department of Labor has some additional information for workers whose employment has been disrupted by natural disasters.

In North Carolina specifically, the state’s emergency declaration does not “overrule an employer’s rights under state law to fire a worker for not showing up or leaving without permission,” although some attorneys say there could be legal options available to employees.

While most workers don’t have many legal protections during a hurricane, every employer has different guidelines when it comes to responding to a natural disaster. For example, during Hurricane Irma in 2017, Universal Orlando paid its theme park employees for the shifts they lost as a result of the storm. Even though workers may not have the legal right to take work off without repercussions, employers are often sensitive to public pressure when workers and their supporters call for more generous policies.

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What are your company’s policies when employees face extreme weather conditions? Would you like to see those policies improve? You can email your thoughts to info@coworker.org or start your own campaign on Coworker.org. Thousands of workers have successfully taken action using Coworker.org: Starbucks baristas won paid parental leave; Uber added an in-app tipping feature after drivers spoke out; and REI increased wages and updated scheduling policies for retail workers. When coworkers join together, you can make a difference in your workplace.

Coworker.org is a global platform to advance change in the workplace. Our technology makes it easy for individuals or groups of employees to launch, join and win campaigns to improve their jobs and workplaces. You can start your own campaign about changes you want to see in your workplace on Coworker.org here — or contact us at info@coworker.org if you would like to discuss a workplace issue with our team.

¹ https://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricane-florence-slows-dramatically-approach-friday-night-landfall/story?id=57765962

² https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/compensation/pages/disasters.aspx

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS