Barbara Roberts, an assembly line worker in Mount Vernon, Missouri, found herself in a predicament when Hurricane Katrina struck.
Her daughter, Tina Roberts, and her daughter's husband, Chris Hardin, had flown to New Orleans on August 26 so Hardin, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, could attend meetings. It was supposed to be a weekend business trip, so they left their 18-month-old daughter in the care of Barbara Roberts, who journeyed to the couple's home in Columbia, about 4 hours away. Roberts had planned to be in her own bed by Sunday night.
Hardin tried to reschedule the flight home the afternoon of August 27 as the Category 5 hurricane approached, but he was told the airline had canceled all flights because of the storm. With no other relatives in the area to take care of her granddaughter, Trisana, Roberts concluded she had no choice but to call work on August 29 and tell her boss she would be missing a few days.
"There was no decision to make--it was already made," Roberts said later. "My daughter could have died down there. This was family. You don't walk out on a child--especially my grandbaby."
Hardin and his wife spent a couple days holed up at a Sheraton hotel in New Orleans and finally made it back to Columbia on Thursday. Shaken up, they asked Roberts to stay one more day.
Roberts says her employer, Positronic Industries, told her by phone on September 1 that she would be fired. The termination came on September 6, the morning after Labor Day.
"All I know for sure is that I had missed so many hours, and then this came up," Roberts told the Associated Press. "Usually you have a certain amount of vacation time, and I had used it up. You're also allowed so many unpaid days off, and I'd used them up, too. Fact is, I missed the allotted time and I got fired."
But Positronic came in for some bad publicity over the firing, with Hardin, for one, calling it
"absolutely unethical." Shortly thereafter, the company announced that it would take Roberts back--and pay her for the days she lost to the firing. President John Gentry said the company would write a new policy to address disasters that keep employees away from work.
Sources: Associated Press, via FindLaw.com and KATC-TV