HR issues that arise when natural disasters hit

by FordHarrison
Contact

FordHarrison

Natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey, raise a host of issues for employers, regardless of whether these employers have a direct presence in the affected areas or whether they have employees residing in or telecommuting from them. Sometimes employers are forced to close or are able to remain open in some capacity, but employees are not able to travel to work or need to attend to emergent matters during or in the aftermath of these types of events. Some of the more commonly asked questions are addressed below.

1. If there is a forced closure of the workplace, must an employer pay its employees their wages during this shut down period?

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act and applicable state laws, non-exempt employees must be paid for all hours worked. In the event non-exempt employees are not working during this shut down period, they are not entitled to be paid wages for this period when they perform no work.  There are exceptions to this. For example, if the employer compensates employees under the fluctuating workweek model or if union contracts provide otherwise in unionized workforces. Additionally, some states have “reporting pay” minimums in the event the shut-down occurs after the employees report to work.

On the other hand, exempt employees must be paid their weekly salary for any week in which they perform some work for the employer. Therefore, for shut down periods spanning less than one week, they must be paid their regular weekly salary for this week even though they were not working during a partial week in which the employer was shut down.

2. May an employer permit employees to work remotely?

Employees may be permitted to work from a remote location; however, employees must ensure that non-exempt employees are paid for all hours worked. Therefore, non-exempt employees must still clock in or provide some form of accounting of the hours that they worked, and the employer’s ability to monitor these work hours is limited.

As to exempt employees, if the shut-down period is a full-week, exempt employees would not be entitled to their weekly salary for that full week. If the exempt employee works remotely, that remote work will constitute work performed in that week, thereby entitling the exempt employee for their full weekly salary for that period of time.

3. What happens if the employer’s business is open, but the employees are not able to travel?

Again, under the FLSA, non-exempt employees are entitled to be paid for only the time that they work, regardless of whether the employee do not work because the employer shuts down or the employee cannot travel to work.

Exempt employees are not entitled to be paid for full days in which they perform no work under these circumstances. Therefore, if they come to work late, they cannot be deducted a partial day’s absence; however, if they are absent for a full-day, this time constitutes personal time and they are not entitled to their salary for these full-days.

4. Can an employer permit an employee to use accrued but unused vacation for this period of shut down if they would not otherwise be entitled to their wages?

Yes. An employer may permit an employee to use their accrued but unused vacation time if they are not able to travel to a workplace which is open or unable to work due to a shut down.

5. If an employer does pay an employee for the shut-down period, is that time counted towards the 40 hours for overtime purposes?

No. If an employer choses to pay non-exempt employees for time that they do not work due to shut-down, that time does not constitute “working time” and thus, not counted towards the 40 hours for overtime purposes.

6. What are the protections for employees who need to take time off during this time?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. For example, if an employee is suffering from anxiety due to the hurricane which is corroborated by a medical certification and the employee is eligible for FMLA leave, then the employee is entitled to up to 12-weeks of leave under the FMLA leave.

Additionally, the FMLA also entitles eligible employees to take up to 12-weeks of unpaid, job protected leave in a 12-month period for any “qualifying exigency” arising out of the fact that a covered military member is on active duty, or has been notified of an impending call or order to activate duty, in support of a contingency operation. Additionally, the FMLA also allows eligible employees to take up to 26 weeks of job protected leave in a 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness.

In addition to the FMLA, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and applicable state law mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodation to otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities. An extended leave of absence can constitute a reasonable accommodation. In the event an employee is suffering from some form of disability due to the hurricane (e.g. depression, anxiety or PTSD) and request a leave of absence, that must be considered even if the employee is not eligible for FMLA leave or if the employee requests a leave beyond the 12-week FMLA leave entitlement.

Moreover, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects employees who are part of an emergency services organization (such as the National Guard or a Reserve unit). USERRA prohibits discharging, denying initial employment, denying promotion or denying any benefit of employment because of a person’s membership, performance of service or obligation to perform service in uniformed service.

Finally, where there is an illness or injury that results from the hurricane, applicable state law may mandate paid sick leave.

7.  How can we show concern?

Employers should engage in regular communication with its employees where possible so that they are aware of the employer’s expectations. Moreover, safety concerns are paramount to all others.  Finally, employees having difficulties coping with the aftermath should be encouraged to utilize the employer’s Employee Assistance Program if the employer offers such a program, or to take advantage of similar alternative services that may be covered under the Company’s medical plan.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© FordHarrison | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

FordHarrison
Contact
more
less

FordHarrison on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.