You are an employer with a a goal set of each hour, day, week, month, quarter and year, maybe 5, 10, 50 years. But natural disasters such as hurricanes do not respect your goals; they are unpredictable and disruptive even to the most efficient workplaces. To minimize the havoc wreaked on your business by the strong storm, a well drafted human resource policy on issues relevant to bad weather is critical. This article addresses two key considerations to remain compliant with the law and to get back to business as soon as possible.
Wage and Hour
A natural disaster often forces a halt in business operations. However, the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not relax or waive its rules during such a period. It requires employers to pay salaried exempt employees during a such a business closure if the employee worked at all during the relevant work week, no matter how briefly. To alleviate the cost to employers, the FLSA permits the employer to require employees to use their accrued and unused paid time off (PTO) during the shutdown. Non-exempt hourly employees on the other hand, may be paid for only the hours actually worked during a business shut down. The FLSA also expects that accurate records of employees’ time worked be persevered in a hurricane-proof format and continue to be kept as employees work through the event.
Employers should prepare clear policies governing this issue well in advance of having to apply its rules
Occupational Safety and Health
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees. Thus, employers must carefully assess the work space during and after natural disasters to ensure that buildings are structurally sound, hazardous materials are not exposed, amenities such a washrooms, air heating and cooling, first aid are fully functional, electrical wires are not damaged or exposed, mosquitoes and other pathogens are under control, among several other considerations.
OSHA permits employees to refuse dangerous work and to report dangerous working conditions. Dangerous conditions must be reported within thirty (30) days of its discovery and can be made via the OSHA website or over the telephone. Likewise an employee refusing dangerous work must do so promptly, and because OSHA does not recommend abandoning the worksite, the employee must work with management to address her concerns.
Once again, clear policies on the issue drafted and provided to employees and managers in advance of a natural disaster is preferred.