Whole Foods Fires a Mother for Taking Care of Her Child. Shame on Them.

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Feb. 6 2014 5:31 PM

Whole Foods Fires a Mother for Taking Care of Her Child. Shame on Them.

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Does Whole Foods think that showing up to work is more important than making sure your kid is safe?

Photo by Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images

My end-of-week outrage goes to two companies that are punishing employees for taking care of their kids. Whole Foods, you first. Rhiannon Broschat, a single mother in Chicago, decided to stay home from work on the freezing cold day of Jan. 28 because school was canceled. Broschat says she looked for someone to take care of her special-needs son, couldn’t find help, and decided not to leave him alone. That is a good thing, the kind of decision employers and all of us should move over to make room for. But Whole Foods fired Broschat. It’s not quite that simple, since, according to ThinkProgress, Whole Foods in the Midwest gives workers five unexcused absences over six months, and this was the one that put Broschat over the line. (She says she had documentation for her other absences.) But still: If she’d gone to work that day, Broschat would still have her job.

The Whole Foods spokesperson told ThinkProgress that its stores were open across Chicago, city transportation was running, and fewer than 10 employees didn’t come to work that day because of unexcused absences. Why does any of that matter? If you’re a parent facing the decision between going to work and making sure your kid is safe, you pick your kid. And an employer with any heart at all gives you a break for making that choice. Parents can get arrested for leaving their kids alone. Worse, they can lose their children. I’m still recovering from Rachel Aviv’s harrowing New Yorker story about one mother whose child was put up for adoption, after she left her son in his crib with a computer game and snacks so she could go to work. Whole Foods workers walked off the job Wednesday to support Broschat, and more power to them. What kills me about these stories is that they’re never about professional or upper-middle class parents. The more resources you have, the more slack you get cut. It’s an appalling reality of the American workplace, and Whole Foods should get a conscience and bring Broschat back.

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And now on to AOL. Hey Tim Armstrong, it does not build morale when the CEO, in a company-wide conference call with employees, explains a benefits cut by calling out “two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK.” Seriously—that’s your excuse? And that’s how you treat parents with sick children, by shaming them? This one is easy, and other people have beat me to it: Apologize.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

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