“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.”
One Pizza Hut employee in Gainesville, Fla., showed The Post messages from his manager, who instructed delivery drivers that even though gas was scarce in the area, not being able to find gas was “not a reason to call out. I will not be accepting any call outs this weekend,” the manager wrote. The employee said he was written up by his manager for evacuating more than 24 hours before the storm.
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.”
But even though Pizza Hut ascribes the policy to one manager, employees from other parts of the state told The Post there were similar policies in their locations, too. Another employee, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his employment, shared an email from a large franchise operator in Florida, decrying the negative media attention the story had brought to the brand.
“Let this be a reminder to all our people that anything can be put in this electronic world to be judged (without knowing all the facts) by hundreds of thousands of people,” wrote Jim Schwartz, president and CEO of NPC International. Schwarz also wrote that the initial memo was “highly contradictory to our leading belief in our people and our ultimate purpose of Delivering Fun in the Lives of Our Customers.” The Post has reached out to NPC for comment, and will update this story once the company responds.
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.