Must an employee report to work during a state emergency?

I work for a background screening company. It’s basically a call center job, definitely a non-essential service. My department manager has initiated mandatory OT for the week. However, as of today, the governor issued a statewide disaster proclamation due to the extreme temperatures and life threatening weather associated with the polar vortex. The current warnings state that exposure can result in frostbite after 2-3 minutes and more than that can result in permanent damage. Prolonged exposure could be lethal. The vast majority of employees at our company commute to work. Most businesses in the area are closed for this reason, the post office isn’t even going to be delivering mail. However, our employer has stated that everyone is expected to report in on time, no tardies, no absences and mandatory OT remains in effect. Anyone who can’t make it in will be subject to normal disciplinary action for absences. This seems crazy to me. I know it’s unlikely but is there any protection for these workers? We’re basically being told we’ll be punished if we aren’t willing to risk our lives to get to work.

Asked on January 29, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

Does this action violate the terms of a union agreement or employment contract? Does it constitute some form of legally actionable discrimination? If not, then while seemingly unfair, it is legal. The fact is that the conditions of employment can be set much as an employer sees fit or deems necessary. This includes who takes off and when. Further, if you do not comply qith your company's request and report to work you can be terminated. In fact, an "at will" worker can be fired for any reason or nor reason at all.

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

Does this action violate the terms of a union agreement or employment contract? Does it constitute some form of legally actionable discrimination? If not, then while seemingly unfair, it is legal. The fact is that the conditions of employment can be set much as an employer sees fit or deems necessary. This includes who takes off and when. Further, if you do not comply qith your company's request and report to work you can be terminated. In fact, an "at will" worker can be fired for any reason or nor reason at all.


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