How to: Support Employees Affected by Natural Disasters

September 10, 2019

Businesses across the country feel the negative effect of natural disasters every year. Hurricanes, flash floods, tornadoes, and wildfires are among the worst types of natural disasters that affect our country every year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, natural disasters cost the nation’s economy over $91 billion in 2018.

It may seem pretty far-fetched to think that a natural disaster could ever negatively affect your business, but it always pays to be prepared. Is your HR team armed with the right answers to your employees’ questions that are sure to come as a result of natural disasters?

With the recent occurrence of Hurricane Dorian in September, it’s important to have a plan in place to support your employees whose ability to work is compromised. It’s important to be flexible, supportive, and knowledgeable in these times of struggle. Keeping it cool during these kinds of crises can maintain (and even improve) your retention rates, in addition to preventing any potential litigation.

As we’ve mentioned before, it’s important to be as flexible as possible, particularly during natural disasters. Each employee will have various needs and questions pertaining to benefits, leave, pay, and more that will no doubt need to be addressed. We’ve jotted down a few essential topics that may come up in the event of a natural disaster.

What you need to know

Pay

Employees who are in affected areas may or may not be able to work. It’s important to acknowledge and distinguish between the different types of employees you have on payroll and make sure each is being paid appropriately.

Non-Exempt Employees: According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), employers are only required to pay (non-exempt) employees for hours worked, especially if the employer can’t provide work.

Exempt employees: FSLA requires compensation for these employees, regardless of business closures due to inclement weather. However, if an employee decides to stay home due to hazardous conditions despite the business being open, they are considered officially absent from work according to the Department of Labor. It is up to your company’s policy whether or not to classify such employees as taking unpaid leave due to work absence.

Acceptable Leave

When it comes to company leave, employees that are affected by natural disasters are eligible for unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This extends to employees who must take off time from work to care for affected family members, even if the employees themselves are not in the affected area.

Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), employers cannot terminate the employment of or deny a promotion of an individual who has been called to duty by any branch of the United States Military or emergency service organization.

When evaluating your employees’ ability to continue performing their job duties, it is extremely important to consider the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines; never compromise the safety of your employees, especially in times of natural disasters. Check out OSHA’s guide for planning for the worst when it comes to keeping your employees safe.

Employee Benefits

When disaster strikes, affected employees will want to know if their benefits will continue to be administered. However, in some cases, natural disasters can be so extreme as to cause interruptions and disturbances; it’s the employer’s job to contact their benefits companies to check if plans will continue to be administered for the duration of the disaster.

Under COBRA, benefits administrators must be given adequate notice if an employee is unable to work, and therefore no longer eligible for benefits coverage under their company plan. In cases like these, employers are required to send COBRA packages to affected employees so they can continue to be covered.

Is your team prepared?

These are just a few of the many topics that a company must factor in when dealing with employee care and natural disasters. Regardless of the situation, being prepared is always a good idea, especially when it comes to administrative matters like pay and leave.

Are you concerned that your HR solution is ill equipped or unprepared for situations like these? Put your mind at ease and consult our team of HR experts.

Ben Waring
INSIGHT WRITTEN BY:
Ben Waring