The Freaked-Out Employee’s Bill of Rights

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When tremors from an earthquake in Virginia were felt by Americans along the East Coast on Tuesday, many may have wanted to leave their office buildings and hightail it back home.

But could jetting out of work early, even when you think your personal safety is in jeopardy, ultimately have repercussions?

According to Baldwin Lee, an employment partner at California law firm Allen Matkins, there is no federal law that specifically addresses whether or not you can just up and leave work if you think a disaster is impending.

“Typically, a situation like that would be covered either by a specific agreement the employee has with a union or their employer,” Lee says.

In the absence of such an agreement, most likely spelled out in either your contract or an employee handbook, whether or not a termination resulting from an employee walking out for safety reasons would be deemed wrongful in court would largely depend on the circumstances and the overall reasonability of the request.

Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you look at things, Lee explains that there is not a lot of case history involving situations like this, as employers are generally amenable to working with nervous employees when a situation like a small earthquake or an impending hurricane, surfaces.

Typically, Lee says, these agreements involve the application of accrued paid vacation time, such as an unplanned sick day or personal day, if the employee expresses a need to leave the office. Whether or not the employee is paid for the time off, however, will be determined by whether or not the employee is on salary or exempt from overtime. Hourly or unsalaried employees generally would not be paid for a sick day.

He suggests that if you find yourself in such a situation you should consult directly with your employer before vacating the premises.

“The best thing for both the employee and the employer to do is to have as much communication as possible to come up with an appropriate solution as dictated by the situation,” Lee says.

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