Miami-Dade Might Bar Employers From Retaliating Against Evacuated Employees

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys.
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys. Photo by Zachary Fagenson
As Hurricane Irma barreled toward Florida last summer, some workers faced an impossible decision: follow evacuation orders and risk being fired, or stay in the path of what officials were calling a storm of catastrophic, never-before-seen proportions.

In Naples, the city manager said he planned to fire an employee in the community services department who refused to work during Irma. In Jacksonville, a Pizza Hut manager posted a sign warning that workers would be disciplined for failing to show up for their shifts. A nonprofit workers' rights group, Central Florida Jobs With Justice, began compiling data about how employees were being treated by their bosses.

Florida has no law barring employers from firing or punishing staff for evacuating during emergencies — even if the evacuation was mandatory. But five months after Irma, the Miami-Dade County Commission is considering making one of its own.

"Individuals who comply with an evacuation order, and who are unable to get to work, should not be subject to sanctions from their employer," reads an ordinance proposed by Commissioner Sally Heyman. 

The rule, which passed on its first reading earlier this month, would make it unlawful to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against any nonessential employee who complies with county evacuation orders. Employers who violate the ordinance would be subject to a fine of up to $500, as many as 60 days in jail, or both. Separate violations would be issued for each employee retaliated against.

An essential employee is defined in the ordinance as anyone critical to the essential functioning of a hospital or health-care provider, public or private utility, media company, government agency, government contractor, public safety agency, and any other business that provides essential emergency-related public-safety supplies or services.

As the Atlantic noted in a pre-Irma story about employee protections, which noted the outpouring of workers seeking advice as the hurricane loomed, big storms can expose weaknesses in the law — "and that can sometimes lead to improvements before the next disaster."

Commissioners did not discuss the ordinance before unanimously giving it tentative approval February 6. A public hearing before the Public Safety and Health Committee is slated for April 18.
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas

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