Hurricane Irma: Can I be fired for missing work during the storm?

Workers could be penalized for not showing up during a hurricane.
Workers could be penalized for not showing up during a hurricane. Creative Commons

Many people who have been ordered to evacuate their homes as Hurricane Irma tracks up Florida are concerned about what will happen to their jobs if they miss work as they flee the storm.

The news for employees isn’t good: There’s no law in Florida that protects employees from getting fired if they miss work because they chose to evacuate, even if doing so was mandatory, according to Ladders.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which mandates that people have safe working conditions, doesn’t have specific rules about working during adverse weather like a hurricane. But, several lawyers think employees could probably make a legitimate case that coming to work during a life-threatening storm violates their right to a safe workplace.

“There’s no reason a business should be operating during an actual hurricane,” employment lawyer Frank Malatesta told Ladders. “If for whatever reason, they wanted you to do that, then there might be an OSHA issue.”

Attorney Marc Edelman agrees.

“Let’s say somebody is working outside, you can’t expect a landscaping crew to work during a hurricane and that would implicate OSHA which is the federal law governing workplace safety,” Edelman told FOX13. “Every case is going to be fact specific. We’re not going to know until we endure the situation to know who is right and who is wrong in a situation like this.”

OSHA provides a guide for employers when the storm is over, to ensure their workers are not placed in dangerous situations during cleanup and recovery.

Employees in areas that were bracing for the worst of the storm but didn’t end up getting hit hard could also be in trouble, Edelman said. If a business is open and an employee did not show up for work, that person can be penalized even though they were taking precautions for their safety.

Employers are also likely wondering what the storm means for their business if they’re forced to close. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay exempt employees if they are forced to close a business because of the weather, if such a shutdown lasts less than a week. According to Employee Benefit News, the business can, however, deduct missed days from vacation or sick time. If a business is open but the employee cannot make it in because of the weather, the employer can deduct that day’s salary from the next paycheck.

For non-exempt employees, a business is not required to pay them for work that was scheduled but is not completed because the business has a weather-related closure.

Employees may be able to justify time taken due to a hurricane under the Family and Medical Leave Act, if the storm requires them to care for a family member, Edelman said. If a business is closed and an employee has to take FMLA leave, it should not count against the employee’s allotment of those days, Employee Benefit News reported.