Rhiannon Broschat got a Chicago Public Schools notice from her child’s school on January 27th that “subzero temperatures and high winds will make it dangerous for children and families getting to and from schools.”
The schools were all closing because of the polar vortex, and Broschat didn’t have a babysitter. The single mother tried to find someone to watch her child so that she could go to work, and when she couldn’t find a sitter, she called her boss and left a voice mail saying she wouldn’t be able to make it in.
“I did go back and forth, thinking maybe I should just leave him home alone,” she told reporters at Think Progress. But in the end, staying home “felt like that was my only option, I wanted to be home so he’s safe.”
Broschat worked as a part-time Whole Foods worker, where the attendance policy in the Midwest region is in a point system. According to Think Progress:
[box type=”shadow”]While workers get some paid vacation days, for unexpected absences it differentiates between excused and unexcused: an excused absence is for an illness, which requires a doctor’s note, a death in the family, jury duty, and “catastrophic events or citywide weather disasters,” according to a company spokesperson. Each worker is also allowed five unexcused absences in a six-month period, and each one counts as a point against the worker. None of the days workers call out are paid.[/box]
The spokesperson continued, “Our stores were open across the city. City transportation was running and essential city services were open that day despite school closings.” She added that “fewer than 10 of our more than 1,800 team members across 19 Chicagoland stores ‘called out’ as unexcused absences.”
Broschat knew that even though she was on a final warning despite having documented all of her absences, she thought the weather that had stranded so many people was a mitigating circumstance.
She said when she spoke with someone in leadership, she was told her that they supported her staying home with her son. “In no way did I think that I was going to be terminated at all,” Broschat said.
But when Broschat came in to work, she was told she would need a doctor’s note before the absence would be excused. Then when she came into work a few days later, she was told that she and seven other people who had not shown up for work the day of the snowstorm would be terminated.
This particular Whole Foods has come under fire before for making employees work on Thanksgiving. Workers held a strike and policy was changed. This Wednesday workers went on strike again to protest Broschat’s firing and the company’s attendance policy in general.
The story is a familiar one in the U.S., where no one is guaranteed a paid day off should they fall ill. In the private sector, about 40% of workers cannot take a day off when they are sick, and the policy hits the lower wage positions across the country, especially in right to hire states where you can be fired for no reason whatsoever.
Federal law regarding a national change to sick leave was proposed, but of course has not cleared the House.
h/t: Think Progress