Employees at a candle factory destroyed by the devastating tornado in Kentucky were warned that they would be fired if they left early, NBC News reports.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that 74 people in the state were confirmed dead and more than 100 others are still missing after a massive tornado ripped through the area of Mayfield.
At least eight of the deaths happened at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory, which produces scented candles.
As many as 15 workers asked managers to let them take shelter from the storm in their homes ahead of the tornado as warning sirens went off but were rebuffed.
Some employees left on their own anyway.
“If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” one worker heard managers tell four other employees. “I heard it with my own ears.”
New claims raise questions:
Another worker told NBC that team leaders said they would not let workers leave due to safety precautions but once they mistakenly thought the tornado threat had passed they sent everyone back to work.
“I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired,” employee Elija Johnson said. “Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?” he asked.
“Yes, a manager replied.
“‘You can’t leave. You can’t leave. You have to stay here,’” another worker recalled managers saying. “The situation was bad. Everyone was uncomfortable.”
“That’s the thing. We should have been able to leave,” added employee Mark Saxton. “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.”
Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the company, told NBC News that the accounts of the workers are “absolutely untrue.”
“We’ve had a policy in place since Covid began,” he said. “Employees can leave any time they want to leave and they can come back the next day.”
He denied that managers told workers that they could be fired for leaving. He added that all managers undergo emergency drills and follow the guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Those protocols are in place and were followed,” he said.