Wow. Just when you thought it was impossible for North Carolina’s Secretary of Employers…er ah…Labor, Cherie Berry — a woman who has managed to make a well-compensated career out of slapping her face on elevators and keeping the employers who bankroll her campaigns happy by doing as little as possible to protect workers — to go any further in proving that her title is a cruel joke, she plumbs new depths. As a story by Bruce Rolfsen of Bloomberg Environment recently reported, Berry contends that North Carolina’s “at-will” employment law trumps everything else — even common sense and public safety in the face of Hurricane Florence. This is from the story:
“Employees who don’t report to work during dangerous hurricane conditions could be fired under a North Carolina policy.
Labor attorneys, however, say employers who fire workers for not showing up in hazardous weather could be violating state and federal OSHA safety laws.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s emergency declaration and warnings to stay off the road as Hurricane Florence approaches don’t overrule an employer’s rights under state law to fire a worker for not showing up or leaving without permission, the state Department of Labor’s hazardous weather guidance said.
Although Cooper, a Democrat, is the governor, an independently elected commissioner oversees the Labor Department. Cherie Berry, a Republican, has headed the department since 2001.
Mary Katherine Revels, public information officer for the department, told Bloomberg Environment that it stands behind the guidance.
‘Even if the governor declares a state of emergency, employers can require employees to report to work,’ Revels said.”
After noting that employee lawyers disputed the statement and argued that it could be in violation of federal law, Rolfsen’s story continued:
“The labor department guidance says that because North Carolina is an ‘at-will’ employment state, an ’employer can hire or discharge employees at the will of the employer for any reason or no reason at all.’
The state advises that an employer can ‘simply inform its employees that they must report to work whenever the business is open regardless of the weather conditions or road conditions.’
Workers who want to avoid being fired for not working during a hurricane can ask their employer to create a written ‘adverse weather policy’ specifying when they won’t be expected to be on the job, the guidance said.”
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at Berry’s dreadful negligence and just plain mean-spirited contempt for average people, who — she clearly believes — should have to risk their lives and even violate state emergency directives in order to keep their jobs. One thing is for certain, however: no set of words in North Carolina government constitute more of an oxymoron than “Secretary of Labor Cherie Berry.”