Lisa Santamaria is a single mother of two who also lives with her 70-year old mother.
To support her household, she works at a Homestead nursing home. At least she did until Hurricane Irma.
“I love my job and I really don’t want to be fired,” Santamaria said.
Santamaria says she lives in an evacuation zone and was concerned about her two sons and mother. So, she did not go to work for scheduled shifts on Saturday and Sunday when Hurricane Irma came to South Florida.
“I decided not to go because of my family,” she said.
The nursing home offered to let her family take shelter inside their Homestead facility but she didn’t feel that was a good option for them.
“There were a lot of people already over there,” she said.
She says when she called her manager she was told to come to work.
“You come and shelter with your family or you’re not going to have your job anymore,” she recalls being told.
A spokesperson at Homestead Manor wouldn’t discuss a specific employment issue but sent a statement saying, “… as a healthcare provider who serves an elderly population, it is our responsibility to make sure that we have employees available to serve our residents, especially in times of emergency.”
Attorney Freddy Perera specializes in employment law. He says the law typically favors employers, not employees.
“You have to start with the basic notion that Florida is an at-will state,” Perera said. “That means that any employee generally can be fired for any reason, you just can’t be fired for an illegal reason.”
Perera says he heard from people like Santamaria prior to the storm.
“And my advice to them was, if you feel unsafe, go ahead and get out because we can find you another job, we can’t recreate your life,” Perera said.
Santamaria says she doesn’t regret her decision but is now worried about how to pay the bills.
“I want to get my job back,” she said.