Slideshow 10 ways employers can handle Hurricane Matthew

  • October 06 2016, 3:58pm EDT

10 ways employers can prepare for Hurricane Matthew

Natural disasters can have a devastating effect on individuals, businesses, management, employees and customers. Power interruptions, disrupted communications and transportation difficulties can create obstacles to the resumption of normal activity for your business. How an employer navigates a significant crisis can have a lasting impact on business operations, its reputation with customers, and more importantly its employees. A myriad of legal issues will arise during the immediate aftermath of a disaster or crisis but also in the days, weeks and months that follow. Law firm Ogletree Deakin notes employers may need to face some of the following issues:

This article was drafted by the attorneys of Ogletree Deakins, a labor and employment law firm representing management, and is reprinted with permission. This information should not be relied upon as legal advice.

Divide up responsibility

The division of labor and responsibility among an employer’s management team is critical to navigating a crisis well. Management teams and department leaders should understand their roles as soon as a crisis presents itself. Employers should assign separate responsibilities within each department to address immediate issues. In addition, employers should assign a separate group within each department to the continuation of business operations. Pulling together this team may require employers to reassign employees and supervisors from other regions and divisions to assist the locations and offices impacted by the disaster.

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Communicate the plan

There are four key stakeholders that should be a part of your communication plans.
1. Crisis management team. To effectively navigate any crisis and formulate the company’s messaging plan.
2. Employees. Your workforce needs to be updated on scheduling, resumption of operations, the Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that are available, and the status of the company’s response.
3. Customers and clients. Your customers and clients will want to be assured that you are still operating (albeit in difficult circumstances) and that you appreciate their business and understanding.
4. Public. The public at large, as well as the appropriate civil and regulatory authorities, should also be kept abreast of the status of your operations.

Allow workers to work remotely

Access to electronic data is critical to the continuation of your operations. Your ongoing operations may need immediate access to back-up power sources and remote servers to continue operations with as little interruption as possible. In addition, your employees who have the capability of working remotely should have access to the support they need to continue their work. So your information technology department should focus on ensuring that all electronic data is backed up, preserved and accessible.

Be in touch with your insurer

Provide your property insurer with prompt notice of the property damage and/or interruption of business operations that occurred as a result of the event. Many insurers have disaster response teams that can be deployed to assist you in resuming operations. The financial department should be tracking all extra expenses the company incurs as a result of the event since these expenses may be recoverable under an insurance policy. Take the time before disaster strikes to understand the coverage that may be available to your company as a result of an unforeseen incident.

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Consider nonexempt and exempt employees

Nonexempt employees are paid for work performed. Your nonexempt employees will likely earn overtime compensation as increased demands are placed on them to cover for other employees during a crisis. If employees work from home or do other work away from the business premises they must be compensated. Keep your record-keeping obligations in mind since employers must record and track all the hours that a nonexempt employee works.

Exempt employees must still be paid for an entire week even if they work any portion of a work week and even if the location is closed for part of the week because of a natural disaster. If the facility is closed for one week or more and no work is performed the employer has no obligation to pay that employee if he or she does not perform any work.

Keep up with record keeping

The FLSA does not provide any relief from its record-keeping requirements because of weather-related emergencies. Employers must still maintain records of time worked. Employers should instruct employees who routinely track time electronically to manually record the times they have worked.

Consider FMLA

Employers may need to grant qualifying employees leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if they have developed a serious health condition as the result of a natural disaster. Remember, employees may qualify for leave if they need to care for a spouse, parent or child suffering a serious health condition or medical emergency caused by the disaster.

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Think about benefits and continuing coverage

Employers continuing coverage for their employees should contact their benefits vendors to determine how and to what extent coverage is to be maintained. These vendors often have specific hotlines for their customers to contact during a disaster since life, health and disability coverages will be impacted. Employers must meet the continuing coverage requirements imposed by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) for employees who are no longer working or who have been discharged.҇

Ensure safety of your employees

Employers are responsible for protecting their employees from unreasonable dangers. During natural disasters, employers should ensure the safety of their employees who are working in and around a damaged workplace. In particular, employers should protect employees from unreasonable exposure to hazards that may be present as a result of a natural disaster, such as slip and fall hazards, electrical exposures, and even exhaustion from working extended shifts.

Additionally, some of your employees may be members of the National Guard or volunteer responders that may be called up for duty by the state governor or president of the United States. Job protections are in place for these employees and some state laws may be implicated to address unique situations.

Be supportive and considerate of employees

The true costs of a natural disaster transcend their business costs. A natural disaster such as Hurricane Matthew, which stands to displace more than 1 million people, has its most acute impact on people, including your employees. Your employees may have suffered injuries, deaths, and significant property damages that can have a lasting and profound impact on their personal lives. Employers should not lose sight that those who work in their businesses may need support in many ways during a crisis. For this reason, employers may need to adapt to the needs of their employees to the extent possible. Employers may find that being supportive, reasonable and understanding with its workforce during these critical times is the best course of action. Corporate responsibility and good citizenship will reflect well on your organization during a crisis.