In the midst of the chaos and turmoil created by the landfall of Hurricane Irma in Florida, JetBlue Crewmembers were faced with even more uncertainty than most.
JetBlue Crewmembers were forced to make a grim decision: should they jeopardize their vehicles and other personal belongings in the storm? Or, should they jeopardize their jobs by evacuating to safer ground?
In a company directive, JetBlue made it clear that employees that did not report to work on time would face termination, and that normal attendance policies would not be suspended in the event of an evacuation. As the storm was bearing down upon the Florida mainland, company representatives dismissively described the Category 4 nightmare as “weakening, but you never know.”
As state officials began issuing mandatory evacuation orders for much of Southern Florida and warning residents to get out of the path of the storm, JetBlue employees were being told to “report to work as normal” or they could face punishment up to and including termination.
Before being permitted to evacuate their families and belongings from Orlando, they would need to obtain the permission of a supervisor first. Only those with no assignments would be released from their work schedules and allowed to evacuate. Those who risked being unable to return to work due to highway closures and floodwaters could be subject to termination.
To add insult to injury, the company did not even require employees to work passenger flights. The MCO airport facility closed to commercial traffic at 11:41 AM ahead of the storm. The Crewmembers were told that they would be braving the storm in order to work non-revenue ferry flights. To add to the confusion, JetBlue began allowing its employees to escape the storm on outgoing non-commercial flights… the day after telling them that the storm was weakening and was not severe enough to serve as an excuse to miss work.
Many Crewmembers took to social media to learn what their rights were, and how likely the company was to make good on its threats to apply regular attendance rules in the midst of a catastrophic hurricane such as Irma.
For Crewmembers worried about potentially losing their jobs at JetBlue, the news isn’t good.
Yes, Crewmembers can get fired if they do not show up for work, and there is nothing in Florida law that protects them. Even if they were under a mandatory evacuation order.
According to Marc Edelman, an attorney with the Morgan & Morgan law firm, there are no specific rules that Florida employers have to follow in cases like this. In a televised interview, Edelman suggested that it could violate OSHA policies if driving to and from work were to pose a serious physical risk. However, if you miss work, and by some miracle Irma didn’t create a driving hazard in your area, according to Edelman, “you’re doing it at your own risk.”
Moreover, Florida is a right to work state, which allows employers to fire workers for nearly anything. "Unless you have a contract that states otherwise,” Erik DeL'Etoile with the DeL'Etoile Law Firm, explained. Union workers do not work at the will of an employer; they are working according to a legally binding contract. Otherwise, he said, “an employer can reprimand you for failing to appear for a scheduled day of work.”
Responses from the company were mixed. Some employees reported that supervisors had been willing to work with them, while others were left afraid of either losing their jobs to the company’s draconian attendance rules – or losing their cars to the floodwaters.
Crewmembers that miss work in order to evacuate are likely to have to deal with more than just smaller paychecks while also contending with the aftermath of the storms… they also lose vacation time if they miss work to evacuate.
For most JetBlue employees, the consensus wasn’t that the company would carry out mass terminations. The issue, as they saw it, was that the storms would be used as an opportunity to fire workers that managers simply did not like.
“There will be a few people that will lose their jobs while certain managers carry out personal vendettas against them,” said a JetBlue Crewmember that preferred not to be named for fear of retaliation from the company. “And, unfortunately, without a legally binding contract to protect them, there’s not much they can do.”