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Ask Amy: Can my employer fire me for not coming to work during Harvey?

HOUSTON – KPRC Channel 2 News is getting a lot of calls and emails from people who need help with recovery after Hurricane Harvey. We are working hard to find answers to some of people's most common questions and concerns.

Consumer expert Amy Davis tackles employer questions in today's "Ask Amy."

Can my employer fire me for not coming to work during the storm?

Some people returned to work after the storm to learn they no longer had a job. They were fired for failing to report to work just before the storm. They're asking consumer expert Amy Davis if their employer can legally do that.

Issue: I was fired for not coming to work when it was not safe to drive.

Question: 
I was scheduled for vacation when hurricane Harvey hit the area. The day I left town I received a text from my supervisor asking if I could forgo my vacation until the next week. I replied "No, I really can't." Due to the mandatory evacuation in my home town, I had to assist family with evacuation that evening. The next morning I was again texted by my supervisor and told to report to a location in Sugar Land. I replied that I left yesterday after work and never heard from her again. On the day I was scheduled to return to work I was terminated for insubordination and told I should have returned. Another employee was also terminated because she refused to drive on the flooded roads."

Answer: 
Chapter 22 of the Texas Labor Code states "An employer may not discharge or in any other manner discriminate against an employee who leaves the employee's place of employment to participate in a general public evacuation ordered under an emergency evacuation order." The Texas Workforce calls it emergency evacuation discrimination.

An employment attorney said he could arge an employer would be discriminating if employees who didn't come in were not paid when others were compensated. The Texas Workforce Commission says situations involving employee issues with transportation to work and any absences during times of disaster are covered under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. While individual employer paid leave policy will determine whether an employee’s pay is reduced or if the absence is covered by paid leave, TWC encourages employers to create a clear and concise policy and to make the safety of their employees a priority.

If you feel like you were fired unfairly because you left work or couldn't come in safely, you could get an attorney to sue your employer. If the judge finds in your favor, you would get your job back and any pay and benefits you lost from being terminated.

If you've got a question, email askamy@click2houston.com.

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