Right now, there are scores of organizations figuring out how to deal with disaster recovery and employee benefits as the predicted winter snowstorm or “bomb cyclone” hits the east coast. Even if your company won’t be directly impacted, you may be concerned about how your organization would handle a natural disaster in the future.
The first step for managing how your organization prepares for a snowstorm, hurricane or any other force of nature — is creating policies that outline what to do if disaster strikes. The next step is getting in touch with your insurance providers to discuss how you can work together to ensure that all your employees are taken care of.
Here are some common questions regarding disaster recovery and employee benefits. Use them to influence the details that go into your policies and preparations. As with all things in life, planning ahead and being safe is always better than being blindsided and sorry.
Are Employers Required to Pay Employees Who Miss Work Due to Weather Conditions?
“Hourly, non-exempt employees are only paid for hours that they work — so if they do not work, they do not get paid,” says John Turco, vice president of employee benefits at Rogers and Gray Insurance.
Salaried or exempt employees have different requirements for payment, which can vary from state-to-state. For example, if employees are not working on the day of the natural disaster, they may not need to be paid. However, if employees work (even if just for a few hours) some states may require they be paid for the full day or even the full week.
In reference to policies at the organization where he is employed, Turco noted that “Rogers and Gray has people use paid time off (PTO) if they cannot come in due to weather conditions, and advises them not to come in if they do not feel that it is safe to do so. This message should come from the top and be reiterated at the direct supervisor level to avoid potential issues.”
Does Missing Days After a Natural Disaster Count Against PTO or Medical Leave?
Your organization’s time-off policy should clearly address how PTO can (or should) be used in regard to natural disasters. Many companies require employees to use it if they cannot attend work because of a storm, just like in Turco’s explanation. However, that doesn’t mean your company needs to follow suit.
Some organizations pay all employees — without using PTO — during natural disasters, although they may limit the number of hours or days they will pay. Human resources, the CEO and any other stakeholders should set clear policies immediately and have them reviewed by the organization’s lawyer.
Medical leave is a completely separate entity. The only reason medical leave would factor into missing work is if the employee was injured and unable to work because of the natural disaster. They would then need to apply for either workers’ compensation (if the accident took place in the office or while performing work duties) or FMLA.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “An employee would qualify for FMLA leave when, as a result of a natural disaster, the employee suffers a physical or mental illness or injury that meets the definition of a ‘serious health condition’ and renders them unable to perform their job, or the employee is required to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition who is affected by the natural disaster.”
For People Injured at Work During a Disaster, Are Workers’ Compensation Claims Appropriate?
Yes! It is always appropriate to file a workers’ compensation claim any time an employee gets injured in the workplace, regardless of what caused the injury. Turco agrees. “I cannot think of an occasion when you wouldn’t file a claim when an employee was hurt at work regardless of the nature,” he notes.
On some occasions, it can be difficult to decipher whether a workers’ comp claim is the appropriate course of action. To this, Turco says, “Even if the employer questions the nature of the claim, I would file the claim and let the carrier investigate and adjudicate.”
What Inspections Need to Be Performed on a Damaged Office Prior to Re-Entering?
Your local emergency services departments (likely the fire department) will be the first on the scene to determine whether or not the building is safe to be entered. If they give you the “all clear,” then your employees can enter safely. It is up to your management team to determine whether work will begin immediately or if there is a certain level of cleaning or construction that needs to be done before employees resume their duties.
“Generally, a workplace has to be made safe to work and an employer should have a policy and procedure in place to proactively address situations like this,” Turco says. “Most workers’ compensation carriers can provide a sample document or policy that provides some guidance.”
In addition to some of these frequently asked questions about disaster recovery and employee benefits, don’t forget about the small steps you can take to make a difference. For example, you can dedicate a company voicemail that is updated daily to indicate whether work is open, closed or delayed during the winter months or when any sudden storm strikes. Also, make sure all new employees receive information on the PTO policy and any natural disaster policies when they’re first hired, and any time guidelines are updated.
Taking the time to prepare now will immensely help your organization know how to proceed if nature does strike.