Reflections on Hurricane Irma (part 1)

Does a declared state of emergency trump the principle of liberty of contract embodied in the employment-at-will doctrine? According to this report in The Atlantic by Gillian B. White, the short answer is no. Here is an excerpt (edited by us for clarity):

Almost as soon as government officials started warning residents of many parts of South Florida to get out of Irma’s path, people began seeking advice on social media on what rights and protections workers have during the storm. One of the most common questions surfacing on Reddit and Twitter was whether workers could be fired for not showing up to work because they had left town ahead of the storm. The answer to that question, in many cases, is that they can indeed be fired. Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife program at Harvard Law School and a former Department of Labor employee, says a major storm, even one that yields a state of emergency, doesn’t suspend labor laws. This means that laws that protect workers’ pay still stand, but because in Florida, workers are employed at-will, it also means that (barring a collective-bargaining agreement or contract stating otherwise) workers can still be fired for their absence. “You can be fired for a good reason [or] a bad reason—as long as it’s not an unlawful reason, which is usually discrimination,” Block says.

We would respectfully disagree with Professor Block, quoted above. After all, what about the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine?

Image result for employment at will doctrine

Credit: Haris Bin Zahid, via LinkedIn

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