This season’s destructive hurricanes, including Harvey, Irma and Maria, have major cities like Houston and Miami racking up hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and lost property. This, coupled with other natural disasters, including the wildfires raging on the west coast, have been incredibly difficult on the nation. If you, or your friends and family have been impacted by these disasters, our thoughts are with you at this challenging time.
These fierce acts of nature have proven to be very confusing and difficult for leave of absence managers nationwide. What happens to leave management in a natural disaster? We’ve put together a few suggestions of how to continue to manage your leave program with maximum compliance and efficiency during a natural disaster, and to help you prepare for future events like this.
1. Practice the Golden Rule
Remember what your parents told you as a child: do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you. This is a good rule of thumb for how to treat your employees during this difficult time. Treat them with empathy, compassion and understanding.
2. Don't Disobey Evacuation Orders
Along the same lines, punishing or threatening employees who wish to evacuate is not the way to go. In fact, once a mandatory evacuation order has been given, it becomes illegal for individuals to stay in the storm’s path. Therefore, messing with a mandatory evacuation order could be dangerous in terms of the safety of your employees, but also for the health of your organization legally.
Unless declared emergency service personnel, if you do dismiss someone for fleeing due to a hurricane, not only are you likely to suffer litigation for wrongful dismissal, it will not bode well for your brand.
3. Facilitate Helpful Resources to Employees
After a disaster like a hurricane, check in with your employees in a group setting to see how everyone has been affected. Encourage them to help out one another in the ways that they can, or help find resources when they are needed. These small acts of kindness will be taken with immense gratitude among employees.
After Hurricane Irma, Florida employees took to the internet to share how their employers handled the hurricane evacuation and aftermath. Accounts ranged from incredibly compassionate employers to incredibly negative accounts of the employer’s expectations and behaviour. This goes to show that your employees are your number one advocate, or pitfall, depending on how you treat them in a time like this!
4. Be Mindful of FMLA, ADA and other Leave Law Eligibility
While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not require employees to be given time off for natural disasters, it does protect individuals from illnesses incurred as a result. For example, if an individual suffers from anxiety that flares up as a result of trauma of a natural disaster, that could potentially qualify them for FMLA. Similarly if the employee must aid a family member (who is part of their FMLA coverage), who is suffering from an injury or illness due to a natural disaster. Along the same line, consider any Americans with Disabilities (ADA) qualifying impairments, should they arise.
One area that employers have especially struggled with in the wake of these hurricanes, is knowing what counts as FMLA during the disaster itself. Can time missed due to a hurricane count as FMLA if the employee is out on leave? Generally it comes down to the amount of time that the business is closed for:
- If the business closes for a week or more due to a storm, these days do not count against the employee’s FMLA allotment
- If an employee is on FMLA leave (say, for one week), and a storm causes a business to close for one or more days during that week, this whole week would still count against the FMLA allotment
Another area to consider when it comes to leave management in a natural disaster is if you have any employees who are emergency services organization members (such as the National Guard or Army Reserve). In this case, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 prohibits employers from discharging those which need to take leave for disaster relief services. In fact, the FMLA was amended by the National Defense Authorization Act to extend up to 12 weeks of FMLA for the spouse, child or parent of uniformed service member called to active duty. Some states also have additional leave laws for disaster and emergency services, so be mindful of these laws and obligations. Additionally many states offer specific protections to emergency services volunteers during disasters that allow them to support the full time services where they exist, and to provide these services where full time EMS do not exist.
5. Always Be Prepared
At the end of the day, natural disasters are unpredictable and unavoidable. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to mitigate against the impact on your organization.
Start by having an emergency response plan, ensuring that management and department leaders know their individual roles, should disaster strike. Within that, you should also outline a communications plan, for how you would disseminate information to your various stakeholders in the event of a disaster.
There are also resources that you can share with your employees, in order to prepare them for a disaster. Here are a few helpful resource links:
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): Disaster Preparedness Checklist, for Employees
- National Hurricane Center: Hurricane Preparedness
- American Red Cross: Guides for Preparing for Emergencies
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: How To Prepare For A Wildfire
From everyone here at Presagia, our thoughts are with everyone impacted by the natural disasters and their effects.
Founded in 1987, Presagia has a long history of helping organizations solve complex business problems with easy-to-use solutions. Today, this means providing cloud-based absence management solutions that enable organizations to be more efficient, control lost time and risk, and strengthen compliance with federal, state and municipal leave and accommodation laws.