With Hurricane Dorian wreaking havoc on the Bahamas last week, it is a stark reminder of the vulnerability that communities and businesses face through the threat of inclement weather and natural disasters.

Preparation and communication remain the constant theme for any business to successfully address inclement weather and natural disasters. Waiting until the weather or disaster hits is too late to communicate a policy and information.

Be thankful your organization was spared the Dorian evacuation, but take time to prepare for the next one.

Leaders and managers need to coordinate efforts to determine if the organization has adequate preparation for:

  • communicating business operations;
  • identifying “emergency” personnel and what that means and those expectations;
  • setting aside funding to address essential personnel needs such as hotel stays and overtime pay; and
  • having a policy outlining compensation for employees who are unable to work due to inclement weather or disasters.

Developing ways to communicate might be more difficult than employers realize.

While group messaging systems with cellphones may seem reasonable, some cellphones may not be operational in a disaster.

Consider additional avenues such as web-based options like Twitter and intranets, and low-tech options like voicemail that can be accessed through landlines.

Employers need to communicate who among the staff constitute essential personnel as well as the expectations of those employees and consequences for failure to deliver on those obligations.

Determine what it really means to be “essential” and what is expected of those individuals and under what circumstances.

When I worked at a TV station after college, for instance, the station paid for essential personnel to stay close to the station and then coordinated transportation to and from the hotel.

In some rare cases, personnel may need to stay on-site. During Dorian, an essential NASA employee at the Kennedy Space Center reported that he camped out on the floor of the facility. In advance, those individuals need to know that this is what might be expected.

The more difficult decision relates to paying employees who are unable to work during a disaster.

Florida residents are understandably already complaining about the loss of work and income during the evacuations that occurred over a Labor Day weekend that would have otherwise been a lucrative weekend for the hospitality industry.

Exempt employees (an employee properly classified as exempt from overtime) must be paid for the entire week if the employee works any part of the week. If an exempt employee is ready and available to work, that employee must be compensated.

However, if the office is closed an entire week and the employee does not work any portion of the week, the exempt employee need not be paid for that week. Note that an exempt employee who works from home is considered working.

Non-exempt employees need not be compensated when the office is closed and they do not work. However, employers should consider paying employees who were scheduled to work.

Those who work part time and would not otherwise be working that day or those on vacation or sick leave would generally not be eligible for the special pay.

Finally, in disaster situations, information is fluid and circumstances change rapidly. Depending on your business, emergency planning can be integral to successful business contingencies.

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Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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