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January 27, 2022
Employees at a Kentucky candle factory that was destroyed by tornados last week say they were informed that they would be fired if they tried to leave their shifts early, according to reports.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has confirmed that this incident will be investigated. In a news conference, Beshear told reporters that the inquiry “shouldn’t suggest there was any wrongdoing. But what it should give people confidence in is that we’ll get to the bottom of what happened.”
A timeframe for the review by the state Occupational Safety and Health Program wasn’t immediately clear. Beshear said they don’t happen “one day or a couple of days after” an incident.
“Everyone is expected to live up to certain standards of both the law, of safety and of being decent human beings,” he added. “I hope everybody lived up to those standards.”
In an interview from her hospital bed, McKayla Emery, 21, said that workers first asked to leave around 5:30, after tornado sirens blared outside the plant. “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” Emery recalled overhearing managers tell four workers standing near her who wanted to leave. “I heard that with my own ears.”
Another employee, Haley Condor, said that 15 people asked to leave early. In response, said Elijah Johnson, who also works at the factory, managers took roll call to determine who had left.
“I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired,” Johnson said. “Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?” he asked. “Yes,” a manager responded, Johnson told NBC News.
A company spokesman, Bob Ferguson, said Tuesday that the state probe was “entirely appropriate”. “In such a catastrophic situation our regulators need to review these things,” Ferguson said, adding that an OSHA official arrived at the site Tuesday and was escorted around the property.
On Monday, Ferguson denied that any workers were threatened, calling the allegations “completely untrue”. “We’ve had a policy in place since Covid began,” said the spokesman, Bob Ferguson. “Employees can leave any time they want to leave and they can come back the next day.”
Ferguson also denied that managers told employees that leaving their shifts meant risking their jobs. 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, he said.
Gov. Beshear confirmed that 74 people were killed in the tornado and a further 100 people remain missing.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: NBC12.COM