A manager of one Pizza Hut in the path of Hurricane Irma threatened to discipline workers who evacuated for the storm outside of a designated time frame — and the brand has come under fire on social media for the "shameful" policy.
A photo began circulating on Twitter of a memo posted for employees in one Jacksonville, Florida, Pizza Hut location, with an explicit list of instructions for employees.
"To all Team members," the memo begins, before laying out a policy that dictates that employees cannot evacuate more than 24 hours before the storm and must return within 72 hours. "Failure to show for these shifts, regardless of reason, will be considered a no call/no show and documentation will be issued," it reads. "After the storm, we need all TM's available to get the store up and running and serve our communities as needed."
Evacuating in the last 24 hours before a storm can be a risky move. Supplies and gas may have dwindled by then, and traffic can be a nightmare. "If you do it later, you may be caught in a flood of traffic trying to leave the area," Miami Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez said Wednesday night. "You may find yourself in a car during a hurricane, which is not the best place to be."
So Pizza Hut is taking some heat on Twitter for instructions that put minimum-wage workers at risk, as many people have pointed out.
Pizza Hut responded with a statement posted on its website. It read, in part: "We absolutely do not have a policy that dictates when team members can leave or return from a disaster, and the manager who posted this letter did not follow company guidelines. We can also confirm that the local franchise operator has addressed this situation with the manager involved."
Restaurant and fast-food workers are often forced to make wrenching decisions in natural disasters. Some can't afford to evacuate in the first place. Without any job protection, fleeing workers could be terminated. Some choose to stay and risk their safety in flood zones to ensure they won't lose their jobs. And even if they stay, flooding could ruin their cars, giving them no way to get to work - leaving them just as vulnerable to firing as they would be if they had evacuated, but with the additional financial burden of repairing their car. Many cities in Florida do not have a robust public transit system.
But after a storm passes, large restaurant chains may be the first to pitch in, donating food and supplies to waterlogged communities. In Houston, McDonald's donated thousands of water bottles, and gave out free meals to first responders. Local chain Whataburger pledged $1 million to help its employees who were affected by Harvey, along with $150,000 to the Red Cross and $500,000 to local food banks.
And a Houston-area Pizza Hut, too, participated in relief efforts, handing out free pies to Harvey victims. Shayda Habib, a pregnant Pizza Hut manager, kayaked to deliver free pies to people who were stuck in flooded homes. But this Irma memo might have erased much of the goodwill the company earned in Houston.