Planning for Disasters
Disasters can be life-changing and stressful; however, avoiding the topic doesn’t eliminate the stress or the possibility of a disaster occurring. Whether a medical emergency or severe weather, we know that some disasters are unavoidable. The best defense in these situations is having compliant policies in place and ensuring your staff is well-trained on them.
What types of policies should be considered? Below is a high-level review of the plans you’ll want in place to help protect you and your employees both when a disaster occurs and during the aftermath. If you have any questions, please call our team at 210-495-8474 or email us at <[email protected]>.
BEFORE DISASTER STRIKES
Workplace emergencies are caused by a variety of factors: a fire in the building, severe weather, or even a hostile employee. While these situations are rare, it’s important to be prepared with an Disaster Recovery Plan. An Emergency Planning Team, composed of managers or staff from all of your teams, can help with developing plans and identifying the best ways to train employees. An Evacuation Plan should be included, but the Disaster Recovery Plan should comprise much more than evacuations.
Consider the example of bad weather forcing an office closure:
- Chain of Command: Who makes the decision that the office is closed? What happens if that person is not available? Who will communicate the decisions to employees?
- Emergency Notification System: How is the closure communicated to employees? This system could be as simple as a phone tree or text message distribution list.
- Evacuation Routes and Post-Evacuation Protocol: How should employees leave the workplace during a disaster? Are there designated safe routes or safe areas to wait for assistance? Should employees check in with a supervisor once they’ve evacuated?
- Team Leader Protocols: Are any employees assigned to stay behind to shut down operations? Who are these employees?Do they have any special safety procedures to follow?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a guide called How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations, which is available here: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3088.pdf. This resource outlines best practices on how to develop policies that will enable your company to be prepared in the event of an emergency.
AFTER THE DISASTER
Pay and Leave
Both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provide requirements for how employees are treated during a natural disaster. This means that exempt (salaried) employees must still be paid their wages even if their employer has temporarily closed, though the policy may state that employees are being paid from their paid time off balance.
Non-exempt, or hourly, employees must be paid for any hours worked (including overtime), even if they are simply checking work-related emails at home. Employers will need to consider how to maintain records if typical time reporting systems, such as a timeclock located at the office, are not accessible to employees. Or employers may consider instituting a mandatory leave policy.
Employees are only eligible for FMLA leave as a result of a natural disaster if they (or a close family member) experience an illness or injury that is considered a “serious health condition” and makes it impossible for the employee to do his or her job. While employers will want to follow their leave policy consistently for all employees, they may find they have opportunities to be flexible to allow employees to take leave to manage any challenges that come up as a result of the disaster.
COMMUNICATING THE PLAN
Communication and training are of paramount importance. Disasters are unexpected events and will cause stress. Employees may make the wrong assumptions if they are not trained on what to expect. Being prepared for a disaster means that you and your Emergency Planning Team have brainstormed about the possibilities, have addressed them in writing, and have trained your staff on your company’s policies.