Tips for Managing Employees in the Event of a Natural Disaster

An HR expert offers disaster-planning advice that will allow associations to have policies and procedures in place to help them—and their employees—weather any storm.

From wildfires to floods and hurricanes, natural disasters are becoming all too common.

“There’s quite a few factors to consider when it comes to natural disasters or disaster preparedness,” said Amber Clayton, director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Knowledge Center. “The big thing is making sure employers are putting together policies and procedures in advance of [the disasters] happening.”

In the planning, here are a few areas that associations should think about:

Communication. Associations should develop a system of effectively communicating with their employees, so in the event of an office closure due to inclement weather, they can connect with staff before they leave their homes for work. Obviously, safety is the highest priority, but if employees don’t get the message and end up coming to work, associations should also be aware that they could be required to compensate them.

Pay for non-exempt employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act has regulations around how exempt and non-exempt employees are paid in the event of a natural disaster that shuts down business operations. For instance, a non-exempt, hourly employee isn’t due any compensation if there isn’t any work performed. “Some employers might be generous and pay for that time anyway or allow them to use their paid time off or vacation,” Clayton said, adding that associations should look at their state laws to ensure the know the regulations around when PTO can be used.

Keep in mind that some states also have what’s called “show-up pay” or “reporting time pay,” where if a non-exempt employee comes to work and the office closes due to inclement weather, the state law may require them to be paid a certain number of hours.

Pay for exempt employees. “For exempt employees who are paid a salary, normally it’s a set salary,” Clayton said. “If business is closed for a day or two during the week, the exempt employee would still be paid for the full salary because they performed work within the work week.” However, the employer could require or allow the exempt employee to use their vacation or PTO benefits. But there are exceptions and nuances.

Remote work. If a natural disaster shuts down the physical association office, organizations should have a game plan about how to ensure the continuity of work. In its policies, associations should first think through who has the capability to work from home. For instance, do employees have the technology—a phone, laptop—or a job role that isn’t tied to the physical office?

Other considerations. Associations should also keep a few other things in mind. For instance, a natural disaster might cause some employees or their relatives to incur a serious health condition that requires them to take family or medical leave. Also, you could have employees in the National Guard, who may be called to duty as a result of a natural disaster. In this case, “there are protections for people with military leave that may come into play,” Clayton said. Employers should also think about benefits continuation.

In short, “there are a lot of things that come into play that employers need to think about prior to [natural disasters] happening,” she said.

How has your association prepared for managing employees in the wake of a natural disaster? Please leave your comments below.

(Ekaterina79/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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