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Ask the Bitches: "Can I get fired for skipping work?"

Ask the Bitches Pandemic Lightning Round: “Can I Get Fired for Skipping Work?”

Yeah, that’s kinda how life feels right now.

We know y’all are already drowning in a deluge of news stories and rumors about COVID-19, the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus. But there’s also a lot of misinformation circulating. Folks are getting really panicky in a time when we most need to be calm, rational, and trusting.

This is why Kitty and I have thrown all our other work aside to speed up our writing schedule. We want to soothe your consciences and help you keep your shit together. On Monday we focused on the practical steps you can take to help yourself and your community stay safe and healthy. If you haven’t read that article yet, go do so.

We wish that Bitch Nation was a real country. There, we could not only quarantine all our beloved readers, but offer them a living minimum wage, paid sick leave for all workers, and mandate at least one dog per household. Alas! Our empire is merely virtual.

So today we’re kicking off a special Lightning Round of Ask the Bitches. We’re publishing as many Q&A articles as we can in the coming days. We want to put your minds at ease, dispel some misconceptions, and give you some helpful resources for getting through COVID-19 fever (pun intended???) with your sanity and emergency funds intact.

First, an announcement

We’ve been sitting on some sad news.

Piggy lost her job.

The long story is a tragic and illuminating morality tale about the evils of business on par with Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. There’s a half-written epic article on the topic waiting in our backlog. But the short story is pretty simple. Her company had financial issues; she was the least-tenured employee; she got the axe suddenly and ungraciously.

It happens.

For you guys, it’s great timing. She’s been able to pour a lot of time into listening to you. She’s been slamming new articles and answering tons of questions on our Tumblr from frightened people who need help. Even though she is herself a frightened person who needs help! It’s one of the many things that makes her a courageous and compassionate person I am so proud to call my sister and my partner.

Ugh. Was that too heavy? Here, lemme stick something funny in…

We run this blog for the people who will be most hurt by the recession that comes next. Our Patreon donations will probably fall off a cliff as those folks lose money and work. And that’s okay. We completely understand if you don’t have a penny to spare.

But if you’re one of the lucky ones who can work from home, keep your insurance, and draw a steady paycheck… please consider supporting Bitches Get Riches through Patreon. I think it’s really special to sponsor the creation of content that helps people who are way harder hit and way worse off than you.

Patreon money went from being Piggy’s extra mortgage payments to Piggy’s groceries real fast. Let me speak plainly: we must keep this broad rich in bacon and whiskey. The financial advice she dispenses when hangry is fucking terrible!

Arite, that’s enough of that! On to today’s question!

The question

“Hey, Bitches. I have a question. Is there any legal defense for us in case we choose to self-isolate during this pandemic and our jobs fire or otherwise reprimand us? I’m in a danger area and will probably bug out soon, but I like my job and I don’t want to get fired. However, my health comes first.”

Ugh. Man! I took this question because I didn’t want Piggy to have to meditate on job loss more than was strictly necessary.

But I hate this question. Or at least I hate the answer—because it’s got a pretty simple one.

The answer

In a word?

Yes.

They almost certainly can.

That’s because most states have codified a labor law relationship called at will employment. It means your employer doesn’t have to give a reason for terminating your employment contract (much less a good reason). You work entirely “at [their] will.” There are a handful of protected reasons they can’t fire you—for your race, gender, or similar federally protected classes. But as we’ve talked about in the past, even that requires extraordinary circumstances to prove.

Now, we’re not lawyers. Or doctors. We’re not even smart! We need calculators to add two-digit numbers! And the rules vary from state to state and industry to industry. (You can check your state’s exemptions here. You’re luck af you live in one of the eleven “good will” states.) You may have more protections than we’re describing here, especially if you’re part of a labor union.

But in general, yes, your employer could fire you at any time, for almost any reason or no reason at all.

The potential legal liability

That said, I don’t think it’s very legally safe for businesses to fire employees for self-quarantining.

Because what happens if pandemic risk overlaps with those protected statuses? Let’s say you refuse to go in because you have a preexisting health condition. Or because you’re a senior citizen at greater risk for lethal complications? Or a single mother with a sick child? It is not legal to fire an employee for their disability, advanced age, or gender. I could see such employees making a successful legal case for discrimination.

More on this topic:

Plus, every state and local municipality is responding to the crisis differently. What happens if obeying your boss means disobeying your mayor, governor, or president? Again, I could see the courts ruling in your favor if your employer countermanded governmental guidelines.

The silver lining

At time of writing, here are some of the steps states are taking to address the spread of the virus…

  • Banning large gatherings of people
  • Shutting down all schools
  • Canceling major sporting and tourism events
  • Closing bars and limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery only
  • Encouraging remote work and remote learning wherever possible
  • Relaxing requirements for unemployment
  • Asking citizens to remain at home and not leave the house for anything less than essential needs

I mention this not to be scary, but to demonstrate (especially for readers in areas that are still relatively unaffected) how this pandemic will touch every person and every business in the country.

… Which I think makes it overall unlikely that an employer will attempt to discipline you for protecting your health, if their only reason for doing so is to be punitive. There are just too many people stuck in the same situation. Millions of Americans will be unable to work due to their kids being home, or their health being at risk, or their local (or state or federal) governments straight-up telling them to stay home until the danger has subsided.

Any business that hasn’t already found their compassion soon won’t have a choice in the matter.

The bottom line

Acting vengefully against employees for making hard choices in a life-and-death situation totally outside of their control? It’s a bad look; it’s a potential legal liability; and it’s a distraction from the more pressing business matters that will likely arise due to the impact of COVID-19.

Unemployment will explode in the coming weeks. The rebound is going to be slow, and it’s going to be painful and scary if you have no source of income or health insurance. So don’t torch that bridge if you can help it.

  • Communicate clearly. Don’t just not show up.
  • Do your due diligence to find coverage or follow whatever your normal workplace policy is when you’re suddenly unable to come in.
  • State—in writing if possible—why you aren’t coming in.
  • If you have underlying health conditions, disclose and cite them.
  • Make an appeal to authority by repeating the instructions of your local and state leaders.
  • If you can do any of your duties from home, do them. Loudly.

But our official advice? Put your health and your community’s health first.

You have one wild and precious life. Jobs and careers come and go. Companies have no loyalty to you; they will fire you in a New York minute to preserve their own interests!

Match that level of loyalty. Don’t put your health (and the health of others) at risk unnecessarily.

6 thoughts to “Ask the Bitches Pandemic Lightning Round: “Can I Get Fired for Skipping Work?””

  1. I’m sorry to hear that Piggy lost her job 🙁 But I’m glad for y’alls voices in this scary time, and I hope that this can be an outlet for her. I too got laid off today, working on the HQ side of a cafe that just couldn’t stay open in NYC anymore. I feel for you, Piggy.

  2. Hi Bitches! Thanks for all the work you’re putting into this. Just wanted to say, take care of yourselves, and a special round of good wishes to Piggy!

  3. To be honest, I’m much more concerned about the financial implications of this virus then the actual virus. The way that most governments are handling this situation (from an economic perspective) is a disaster to say the least (with the exception of maybe China and South Korea). Like this would be great depression level bad if this situation doesn’t improve sometimes soon.

    1. I’m not worried for my personal health or safety… just for those around me. I have HIV-positive cousins, elderly grandparents, and immuno-compromised friends that are at great risk.
      But yeah, I’d be lying if I wasn’t ALSO concerned about the economic ramifications. People’s lives should come first, but we’re going to be dealing with the financial fallout for fucking years.

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