Rhiannon Broschat, a worker at a Chicago Whole Foods store, was reportedly fired after staying home with her "special needs" son when public schools were closed, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Broschat, reportedly a 25-year-old single mother, told the Sun-Times that she was a reliable employee and was in a jam that day, as she couldn't find someone to care for her son. She allegedly called the next day and was told she was "terminated due to abusing their attendance policy," Broschat said.
Chicago Public Schools had said that schools would continue a second day of closure because of "subzero temperatures and high winds [that] will make it dangerous for children and families getting to and from school."
It was during the most recent polar vortex, on January 28 when the high was 4 degrees and the low, -11 degrees, according to AccuWeather. At 9:30 in the morning, the temperature at O'Hare airport was -8 and the city was close to its record low for the date.
A Whole Foods spokesperson told that the company does not discuss employee matters and that no one event would lead to being fired. According to a statement provided to the paper, "our attendance policy in the Midwest region of Whole Foods Market is designed to provide support for our team members when these things happen" and that each employee was allowed up to five unexcused absences in any six-month period.
"Our stores were open across the city," a spokesperson reportedly told ThinkProgress.org. "City transportation was running and essential city services were open that day despite school closings." According to the spokesperson, fewer than ten employees out of 1,800 across 19 Chicago stores took unexcused absences.
No singular attendance event would cause a team member to be separated, and excused absences are not included in the points system. Team members approaching their limit of unexcused absences receive warnings and reminders, and those who exceed their limit are separated.
Apparently Broschat knew that she had no unexcused absences left and claimed that "when she spoke with someone in leadership, she was reassured that they supported her staying home with her son," according to ThinkProgress.
The firing prompted a protest, according to the Sun-Times report. An estimate 40 people went to the Whole Foods regional headquarters. Among the protestors was Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
Broschat was also at the demonstration. It was not the first time that she protested Whole Foods. On July 31, she was at a demonstration with union activists who were part of the campaign calling for workers to be paid at least $15 an hour. Broschat appears in a photo taken at the event.
"We have companies that claim to have family values," Lewis said. "We have a government that claims to promote family values, and yet, when we see what family values are, they do not look like what happened to Rhiannon. . . . Rhiannon's son needed her. And if we don't hear the voices - the needs of children, then I don't even know why we are selling food."