A catastrophic tornado hit Mayfield, Kentucky, leaving 74 people dead, as confirmed for now, and controversy immediately followed.
One candle factory was also hit by the tornado and employees claimed that when they wanted to leave after hearing the warning sirens, supervisors warned them that they would be fired if they left their shifts early – as reported by NBC News who spoke to several workers. However, the company denies this was true and said workers could leave anytime.
15 workers asked their managers for hours, as the news of the storm was spreading, if they could leave to take shelter at their homes, but were refused with firing threats.
Some of them went home anyway, as they feared for their lives, and they had a good reason, as eight people were found dead after the tornado catastrophe.
Workers said that they were hiding in bathrooms and in hallways after hearing the sirens, but the real tornado did not arrive for several more hours. They asked their supervisors to let them go home after they thought the danger had passed.
“People had questioned if they could leave or go home. If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired. I heard that with my own ears,” said McKayla Emery, 21, in an interview from her hospital bed.
“There was a three-to-four-hour window between the first and second emergency alarms when workers should have been allowed to go home,” said another employee, Haley Conder, 29.
Team leaders told her initially that they wouldn’t let workers leave because of safety precautions, so that is the reason why they kept everyone in the hallways and the bathrooms. And once they thought that the danger had passed they sent everyone back to work.
“I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired,” Elijah Johnson, 20, who was working in the back of the building said. “Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?” he asked. “Yes,” a manager responded.
He added that the managers went too far when they wanted to find out who were the employees who left work early.
On the other side, company officials denied the whole thing… “It’s absolutely untrue! Employees can leave any time they want to leave and they can come back the next day,” Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for Mayfield Consumer Products said.
He said that managers and team leaders undergo a series of emergency drills that follow guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Those protocols are in place and were followed,” Ferguson said, denying that workers were threatened by losing their jobs.
Latavia Halliburton, another employee, said she witnessed workers being threatened with termination if they left, saying: “Some people asked if they could leave, but managers told them they would be fired if they did.”
After the first tornado warning passed without any damage, the second warning was issued several hours later, and Conder and a group of other workers approached three managers wishing they would let them go home, but the managers answered with: “‘You can’t leave. You can’t leave. You have to stay here.”
“The situation was bad. Everyone was uncomfortable,” said Conder.
A forklift operator aged 37, Mark Saxton, said he wanted to leave but he wasn’t given any choice: “That’s the thing. We should have been able to leave. The first warning came, and they just had us go in the hallway. After the warning, they had us go back to work. They never offered us to go home.”
Employees didn’t have any other option, but to take shelter in the company, and as the storm was becoming more serious and the lights in the building started to flicker, Emery, who was standing near the candle wax and fragrance room, was struck in the head by a piece of concrete.
“I kid you not, I heard a loud noise and the next thing I know, I was stuck under a cement wall. I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t push anything. I was stuck,” Emery said.
She was trapped for six hours and had several chemical burn marks on her legs, her buttocks and her forehead from the candle wax. She also sustained kidney damage, her urine is black, and she still can’t move her legs because of the swelling and from having been motionless for so long.
“It hurts, ’cause I feel like we were neglected,” Saxton said, as the employees who wanted to go home early said they were mistreated.