GunterFirm has received several calls from individuals, companies and the media regarding employee rights if terminated as a result of an absence while preparing for Hurricane Irma.
Under Florida law, there is no “legal” claim for “wrongful termination” if an employee is terminated for failing to report to work during the hurricane. There is no exception to Florida’s “employment at will” doctrine for terminating an employee who does not report to work before, during, or after a hurricane or any other natural disaster. This includes terminations that occur during a state of emergency, a voluntary evacuation or even a mandatory evacuation. This applies to public sector employees as well as private sector employees. All emergency personnel and healthcare providers at hospitals are generally under an affirmative duty to report, and plans for emergency personnel and healthcare providers are generally known and made in advance.
GunterFirm is advising our clients not to terminate employees or take other adverse actions due to hurricane related absences. Although legally permissible, such terminations are perceived as morally reprehensible and can cause serious harm to the company’s image. These terminations may result in immediate negative media exposure, including negative social media campaigns and negative online reviews.
Both employers and employees should take a deep breath and take into consideration each other’s needs. Employers who provide nonessential services to the public should exercise great caution before putting profits above employee safety and well-being. Likewise, employees should make all efforts to cooperate with employers to ensure that the business is protected and careers can be continued when things return to normal.