As climate-related disasters increase in intensity and frequency, employees are regularly expected (and sometimes required) to place their lives in danger by continuing to work through these calamities. For example, during recent tornadoes in Illinois, Amazon not only refused to let workers leave a warehouse in the expected route of a tornado but also refused to allow its workers to access communications devices to track the dangerous conditions. The warehouse was destroyed, and several workers were killed. Similarly, during the Getty Fire, domestic workers and gardeners were required to continue working in Los Angeles evacuation zones. Agricultural workers in Sonoma County were required to continue picking produce during the Atlas/Tubbs fires. There were landscapers and housekeepers, along with children, among the 23 lost and 167 injured in the 2018 Montecito debris flow.
SB 1044 was designed to enhance workers’ protections during natural disasters by requiring employers to allow workers to have access to their cell phones or other communications devices during these emergencies to seek emergency assistance, assess the safety of the situation, or communicate with a person to confirm their safety and by permitting workers to leave a workplace or worksite within an area affected by an “emergency condition” if they feel that they must do so for their safety.
“Emergency condition” is defined to mean the existence of either of the following: (i) conditions of disaster or extreme peril to the safety of persons or property at the workplace or worksite caused by natural forces or a criminal act; or (ii) an order to evacuate a workplace, a worksite, a worker’s home, or the school of a worker’s child due to natural disaster or a criminal act. SB 1044 specifically excludes a health pandemic from the definition of “emergency condition.”
Sadly, the California Chamber of Commerce designated this common-sense prophylactic as a “job killer,” as it routinely does with laws designed to protect employees and consumers, and many Republicans voted against it.