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Miami�South Florida’s labor and employment lawyers got some unexpected business due to Hurricane Frances and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle of Miami-Dade County. As the storm threatened Florida over the weekend of Sept. 4, Rundle and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas publicly warned employers that they could face criminal prosecution for forcing employees to work during Hurricane Frances. The warnings prompted nervous employers to call their attorneys. Stunned employers wanted to know whether they really could be arrested for requiring employees to come to work during the storm. The employers�whom lawyers interviewed for this article declined to identify�were in the retail, hospitality and waste management industries. Rundle’s comments, broadcast on every South Florida television station, rattled employers and may have achieved the result she was aiming for. There have been no reports thus far of anyone injured or killed driving to work. “If that’s a result, we’re thrilled,” said Rundle, a Democrat who is running for re-election in what is expected to be a tough three-way contest against former Broward County prosecutor Alberto Milian and lawyer Gary Rosenberg. “If an accident or injury occurred, the employer could be culpably negligent.” The issue also came up during Hurricane Charley last month. Two Largo, Fla., city employees were fired for refusing to go to work the day Charley was expected to hit. One employee, a first-responder, said he had to take care of his ailing, 81-year-old mother. ‘A difficult call’ The issue has prompted talk of possible local or state legislation, especially since another hurricane�Ivan�made its way into the Caribbean last week. In Broward County, Fla., a spokesman for State Attorney Michael Satz said his office received no complaints from Broward residents about being forced to go to work during the hurricane. Still, Satz had his staff research the issue. “If someone ordered to work was seriously injured, it would be possible to argue in civil court, and perhaps even in criminal court, that the employer was culpably negligent,” said a spokesman for Satz, Ron Ishoy. But, Ishoy said, “our prosecutors could find no law that would directly apply to not heeding a governmental advisory.” “It’s a difficult call to make,” said James Bramnick, a management-side labor and employment lawyer in Orlando, Fla.-based Akerman Senterfitt’s Miami office. “There’s been talk and speculation in the last couple days of having a local law that spells these things out. They may want to issue something in the future.” Eric Gabrielle, a labor and employment lawyer at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had the same thought. “I will bet you in the next Florida legislative session, someone will propose a bill about what employers and employees are required to do in the case of a hurricane.”

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