At a Pizza Hut in Jacksonville, Fla., a manager threatened to punish employees who evacuated for too long during Hurricane Irma.
In a notice to employees that was circulated on Twitter, the manager wrote, “As a general rule of thumb, we close stores 6-12 hours before storm hits. Or night before if a daytime storm.” He continued that “if evacuating, you have a 24-hour period before storm ‘grace period’ to not be scheduled. You cannot evacuate Friday for a Tuesday storm event! Failure to show for these shifts, regardless of reason, will be considered a no call / no show and documentation will be issued.”
Consumers have taken to social media to criticize the policy, but it falls in a legal grey area.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry ordered a mandatory evacuation for some parts of the city on Friday, but an evacuation order does not necessarily protect absent workers from being fired. Even a major storm that causes a state of emergency to be declared does not suspend labor laws. According to The Atlantic, this means that “laws that protect workers’ pay still stand, but because in Florida, workers are employed at-will, it also means that workers can still be fired for their absence.”
Employment at-will policies mean that businesses can fire employees at any time and for any reason, as long as it is not unlawful—such as for pregnancy, gender, or race. But while the policy means that an employee could in fact be fired for missing work during a hurricane, many companies are unlikely to go through with it.
In fact, Pizza Hut responded to the Florida manager’s notice, saying that the company does not “have a policy that dictates when team members can leave or return from a disaster, and the manager who posted this letter did not follow company guidelines.”
“We can also confirm that the local franchise operator has addressed this situation with the manager involved,” the company added.
This is not the first major storm that has prompted questions about the legal protections of workers. During the 2015 blizzard that hit much of the northeast, workers at businesses that stayed open risked losing their jobs if they decided to stay away from work because of government travel warnings.