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What should employers do during a natural disaster?

We've all seen reports of the devastation from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey the last couple weeks. Here in New York, few can forget Hurricane Sandy. Natural disasters can be devastating.

For employers and workers, natural disasters can lead to lost productivity that can cause lingering effects for days, weeks or more. While it goes without saying that safety should be everyone's primary concern, it is also important for employers to know how to handle a natural disaster from a business perspective.

In the wake of the recent hurricanes, The National Law Review published a rundown of things employers should consider. The list focuses on three primary areas:

  • Employee safety: This is everyone's top concern. It is important that employers not ask employees to take on tasks for which they are not properly trained in preparation for or recovery from a natural disaster. Employers should consider contracting with a professional disaster recovery service to minimize risk to their employees.
  • Compensation for work performed: If an employee performs work outside their standard work hours, they must be compensated. It's also important to note that if an employer is forced to close in the middle of a workweek, the FLSA requires employers pay exempt employees who are paid on a salary basis their entire weekly salary if they worked any portion of that workweek.
  • Requests for leave: Employers may get an influx of leave requests immediately before and after a natural disaster. You are not obligated to grant these requests in all circumstances. It is important to be aware that employees may qualify for time off under federal or state laws, such as the FMLA.

Employers should use their best judgment during a natural disaster. If employees and employers work together, they can come up with solutions that will be beneficial in the short and long term.

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