Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes have posed unique human resource challenges for employers. While many employers are working around the clock on recovery efforts, other employers find themselves unable to function for extended periods of time because of damage or loss of utilities.
The economic effects of a natural disaster will have long-term consequences on businesses in the region.
Although no one can ever be fully prepared for such natural disasters, it is important to be aware of the federal and state laws that address these situations. This quick go-to guide can be used by employers in navigating through the legal and business implications created by events such as Hurricane Sandy. In addition, the information contained in this guide may be applicable to other disasters, such as fires, flu epidemics, and workplace violence.
By: Kara M. Maciel
Hurricane Sandy is approaching this weekend, so employers along the East Coast should refresh themselves on the wage and hour issues arising from the possibility of missed work days in the wake of the storm.
A few brief points that all employers should be mindful of under the FLSA:
- A non-exempt employee generally does not have to be paid for weather-related absences. An employer may allow (or require) non-exempt employees to use vacation or personal leave days for such absences. But, if the employer has a collective bargaining agreement or handbook policies, the employer may obligate itself to pay through such policies.
- An exempt employee generally must be paid for absences caused by office closures due to weather, if he/she performs work in that week. The Department of Labor has stated that an employer may not dock a salaried employee for full days when the business is closed because of weather. Partial day deductions for weather related absences are not permitted.
- If certain employees are required to be on-call (such as public safety, IT, or other essential personnel) during the storm, and the employee cannot use the time effectively for his or her own purpose, the on-call time is compensable and the employee must be paid. However, if the employee is simply at home and available to be reached by company officials, then the time is not working time and an employer does not have to pay for that time.
Policies and procedures to keep in place:
- Decide whether your company will offer “weather days” for non-exempt workers who are absent because of disasters.
- Ensure that your payroll systems are prepared for employees working from home, longer shifts, or not taking lunches.
- Decide whether employees absent because of weather will be allowed / required to use vacation or PTO time.
- Ensure safety of payroll records and ability to process payroll from alternate location if needed.
Natural disasters pose a myriad of employment and HR issues from wage-hour to FMLA leave and the WARN Act. The best protection is to have a plan in place in advance to ensure your employees are paid and well taken care of during a difficult time. Our reference tool contains answers to common questions, and while aimed at employers in the Gulf Coast, if you have operations anywhere along the East Coast, you should find it helpful.