Single Mother Fired For Staying Home to Watch Her Son on School Snow Day

It’s been an unusually long, cold and snowy winter for many across the U.S., and the “polar vortex” doesn’t appear to want to leave without a fight. But as a result of the unseasonable bitter weather, massive snow storms, biting cold and, in the south, frozen rain incidents that have been unprecedented, something else pretty usual has been occurring — repeated school closures.

Dealing with unexpected school closures for any parent with young or dependent children is never an easy task. Although many school districts have done their best to have notice go out as early as possible to allow parents and guardians to find alternative places for their children to go for the day, there’s no doubt that it’s a hardship. Daycare centers, baby sitters, relatives and friends are becoming overtaxed, or parents are squandering all of their vacation days. Still, those are the best case scenarios. For a number of parents, a school closure means missing work, unpaid time off or, in the most extreme case, the loss of a job.

That’s exactly what occurred in Chicago, when Rhiannon Broschat, the single mother of a special needs student, called in to her part time job at Whole Foods, telling her employer should couldn’t find someone to stay with her son and she wasn’t comfortable leaving him home alone. Unfortunately, that absence was her fifth “unexcused” absence in six months, and despite documentation surrounding all of her absences, she was fired for it. If you think that’s absurd, like we do, please sign and share the petition telling Whole Foods to give Broschat her job back.

Broschat told ThinkProgress that she understands why a company needs to have a policy on absences, but having an inflexible one that doesn’t take into account special circumstances is unfair to workers.”We get sick,” she said. ”Everyone gets sick. We live in Chicago, look at the weather.”

Sadly, Broschat’s case is probably not the only one of an employee forced to face some form of discipline over the unfortunate circumstance of simply not having enough resources to help with child care during a school closing. For others, they may not have received direct discipline, but did end up losing necessary wages that they no doubt relied on.

The impact of surprise winter school closings are the hardest on lower income families, which is surprising since some of the talking points used by schools to justify the closings are for their benefit as well. Here in Minnesota, where we have had four days of school closings due to morning temps of -20 degrees Fahrenheit, many online groups created for various school districts have discussed one reason for closings being that some children, especially those from lower income families or immigrant families new to this state and unaware of the climate, may not have adequate winter clothing for waiting for buses. This is especially problematic when temperatures are so low that school buses themselves are in danger of fuel freezing or other mechanical issues.

Those who were advocating for keeping the schools open, on the other hand, point out that many of those same families could be hurt by school closings. There may be lost wages from staying home, or children who use the schools for free or reduced meals may find themselves without a full meal for the day. Others argued that those students are the ones who have traditionally trailed in the education gap, and need to be in a classroom, uninterrupted.

Obviously, there is no easy answer. Do we put children in danger in order to ensure that they get a day in school and a good meal and that their parents are able to work? Do we cancel school knowing that those with resources will be fine but those with less will suffer? Is there any balance in between, such as making school open but not mandatory for a weather day, or does that exacerbate the issue by leaving some students behind while the classroom goes on without them?

It’s a rough decision, and one that will continue to affect many families, especially the poor. Unfortunately, it looks like we have a long winter to figure it out.

One thing we can all agree on, though, is that no one should be fired simply for taking care of their children. Please sign and share the petition telling Whole Foods to give Rhiannon Broschat her job back.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Michelle Spradley

Boo B: Of your three children, how many are special needs children? Also, the term special needs is a little ambiguous and is used for a myriad of needs. It can be difficult to find someone wiling and able to take care of a special needs child, especially last minute and also depending on the child's needs.

I also do not consider calling in to work because of a childcare dilemma related to weather something to be labeled unexcused. Perhaps she should have just brought her child to work with her and told her supervisor it was a "take your child to work" day.

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobets3 years ago

Thank you!

Ulane V.
Ulane V3 years ago

I live in a country where children go to school even when it's -40-50 F and even if they have to walk few kilometers. I do think it's crazy.
In my country nobody is allowed to have 5 unexplained absences, it does not matter if you are single mother, rules are the same for everyone. You have to organize your personal life, it is not the company's problem. That woman was absent from work only once because of the weather.
I looked her up on the internet and it seems she had been constantly late to work because she has to take her child to school.
I do feel for her, being a single mother for special needs child is not easy.
But if you can not change your work schedules to fit with your child's school schedule you can not just continue being late. You have to find another job.
A lot of us have personal problems and we have to abide by the rules, we can not just not show up at work.
I do not understand the personal arguments going on here what have nothing to do with this article, really hard to sort out which comments to read....

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F3 years ago

Always a catch 22...

Don Swanz
Don Swanz3 years ago

KAREN R: Ms. Rhiannon Broschat - Whole Foods already does - has to realize that we live in the "real world". Don and WE CAN! :-))

Boo B.
Boo B3 years ago

She needed to line up more than one or two people to take care of her child then. I was a single mom of 3. I had no problem finding someone to take them all.

Angela l.
Angela L3 years ago

It's a critical call, only the manager knows each individual situation whether it's an "excuse" or a routine. Companies do stick with their rules consistently so is fair to all other employees. Unfortunately, this will also hurt the economy and the company due to an exceptional bad winter!!!

Don Swanz
Don Swanz3 years ago

JOANNA M: KUDOS! I totally agree and I will not be signing the Petition either. As an employeer, five (5) - now six (6) - unexcused absences in a six (6) month period is totally unacceptable. In fact, in most places, you be hard pressed to ever get to three (2).

Ms. Broschat had other resources at her disposal and neglected to make use of them. Don and WE CAN! :-))

Anjali J.
Anjali J3 years ago

A complete lack of understanding and compassion on Whole Foods' part. Everyone has to deal with events outside of their control at various points in their life.

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris3 years ago

Thank you - very interesting.