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How to Respond to Natural Disaster: When Employees Flee, What Employers Can Do To Retain Order

Dealing with hurricanes and other natural disasters is a hot topic for Florida employers. While the safety of your staff is a high priority, you must also be concerned with the security and functionality of your business.

Preparing Your Business During a Disaster

Business owners faced with a natural disaster must keep a close eye on official reports and heed all evacuation notices. If it looks like your business location will be impacted, you will need to take precautions to retain order and ensure minimal disruption to day-to-day operations.

Prepare Your Employees

Be sure to give your employees sufficient time to secure their homes and families, and let them know when they are expected to return to work. If employees are in an evacuation zone, it can be to your benefit to help them make alternate arrangements. Make sure you have updated contact information for all your employees so you can reach them in case of a change of plans.

Secure Your Assets

Take the necessary steps to preserve records and equipment, fortify your building, and locate your insurance documents. Print a hard-copy list of contact information for all critical vendors, as you may not be able to access the internet or electronic devices in the aftermath of a disaster.

Review Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Best practices dictate that your business should already have a disaster recovery plan in place. This document outlines the strategies and procedures you will use to handle a critical interruption in service. Ensure that all of your employees have a copy of the plan and understand their role. If you don't have a plan in place, now is a good time to get one prepared.

Employer Rights and Responsibilities

It's important to understand your rights and responsibilities when employees are unable to unwilling to report for duty during a natural disaster. There are specific regulations regarding payment of wages, on-call, waiting, and volunteer time. These regulations vary depending on whether the employee is salaried or hourly and whether or not they have been categorized as exempt. Although there are many variables that may apply, here are some general guidelines.

Work Hours and Pay

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that employers are only obligated to pay non-exempt employees for actual hours worked. This means that if an hourly employee evacuates or is otherwise unable to work during a natural disaster, you are under no obligation to pay them for that time. This does not apply to employees who are paid a fixed salary for fluctuating work hours. In this case, if any work was done during the week, the employee must be paid the full weekly salary.

Employee Termination

Mandatory disaster leave for employees does not exist in the United States. Florida is an "at-will-employment" state, giving employers the right to terminate employees at any time for any reason that is not discriminatory. Although you may legally be able to terminate employees who chose to evacuate, doing so in the aftermath of a serious disaster could tarnish your company's reputation. Carefully consider potential repercussions before making this decision.

While we all hope to avoid being directly hit by a natural disaster, it's always best to be prepared for the worst. Don't wait until you are in the midst of a crisis to consider how to handle it. Clearly communicate your plan to all those involved to help avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure your business is back up and running as soon as possible.

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Danz Law, PLLC
11011 Sheridan Street
Suite 314
Cooper City, Florida 33026

Toll Free: 866-640-1080
Phone: 954-406-7535
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