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Texas Companies Are Forcing Employees to Use Vacation Time for Winter Storm

Some workers in Texas are being told that they must use vacation time or forgo pay for days lost to the power crisis.

Icicles hang off the State Highway 195 sign on February 18, 2021, in Killeen, Texas.

Dozens of employers in Texas are forcing their employees to dig into their vacation time to account for days they didn’t work due to the winter storm, or else go without pay for those days, The Daily Beast reports.

Last week, millions of Texans were left without power, some for days, as a winter storm hit the state and froze energy producers, leaving the state’s independent grid floundering. Many people were unable to go to work as they faced immediate hazards like freezing cold indoor temperatures, burst pipes leading to collapsed ceilings, and later, food and water shortages.

Many have died from reasons relating to the power outages, and the real death toll won’t be known for weeks or months.

Still, as Steven Monacelli at The Daily Beast reports, several large companies and the city of Dallas have decided that workers who faced these issues at home should either use paid time off or forgo their pay for days spent dealing with the energy crisis. Many of the companies are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, reports the outlet, which was one of the many areas that was hit hard by power outages.

The outlet acquired internal emails and texts from places that implemented this policy, including large companies in Texas like aerospace companies Bell Textron Inc. and BAE Systems and John Deere equipment dealer United Ag and Turf, as well as the city of Dallas.

“Employees who are unable to fully dedicate their time and attention to company business due to current conditions should use available PTO, vacation, or holiday flex time if they wish to be paid for today,” said an email from Bell executives obtained by The Daily Beast. “Otherwise, employees who do not have any remaining PTO, vacation, or holiday flex time or do not wish to use their unused PTO, vacation, or holiday flex time will not be paid for today.”

United Ag and Turf, meanwhile, implied that it is up to employees to plan for climate emergencies like this — even though temperatures hit unprecedented lows in many parts of the state — and save time off for them, found The Daily Beast. “To be prepared for circumstances like this in the future, each employee is expected to manage their PTO and encouraged to always carry a balance for unexpected situations like health issues and bad weather,” they wrote.

These corporate decisions have put workers in a tough position. “I’m disappointed and nervous about the next year,” one of the affected employees told the outlet. “Even though I’m salaried, I’m entry-level, and any knock to my income will put me on the street — and that’s terrifying.”

Texas doesn’t require that employers provide paid time off for employees, so the companies can decide how they want to treat vacation days. Texas is notorious for poor labor protections, a labor lawyer told The Daily Beast and an Oxfam list of the best and worst states to work in the U.S. ranks the state low down the list.

These companies’ decision that a climate-driven natural disaster in Texas wasn’t reason enough to give their employees time off is part of larger labor-related concerns in relation to the climate crisis. As climate disasters come more and more frequently, the climate community has had to reckon with how labor and climate issues intersect. In lieu of regulations, some companies have announced paid leave policies for employees facing natural disaster-related incidents.

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