Leave Policy/Compliance

Should Employers Pay for ‘Hurricane Time Off?’

In the past, employers have paid for time off during weather disasters. After last year’s huge losses, that may be changing. The important thing is to have a policy ahead of the storm.

Wilma, Frances, and, of course, Katrina.

Say those names a year or so ago and you might have been talking about someone’s cute kids. Now the images are those of death, damage, devastation … and monumental problems for business.

As Labor Day marks the start of the most intense part of hurricane season, businesses are wrestling with questions coming out of last year’s record-smashing storm year. Many are workforce-related.

Companies in hurricane-prone areas have traditionally been flexible about granting workers paid time off to prepare for storms and to clean up after them. After last year’s tremendous losses, that may be changing.

“We’re Not Letting You Go Early. Be more Prepared.”

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that one example is R.L. Schreiber, Inc., a food manufacturer near Ft. Lauderdale. The general practice of companies in the area has been to let employees leave early with pay on a hurricane warning, 24 hours before landfall, a hurricane watch, 36 hours before, or over time in a graduated departure. Now Schreiber controller Ted Kennedy is telling workers, “We’re not going to let you go early, but we’re going to expect that you’re more prepared.”

Another way to put it: Buy that bottled water, and gas up your vehicles ahead of time … and on your own time.

After the Storm: FLSA

Whether employees are paid for time off after the storm is, in part, controlled by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Nonexempts don’t need to be paid when they don’t work. However, there could be morale or public relations issues if an employer is seen as taking advantage of the situation and adding to the misery.

The situation with exempts is more complex. If the business is open, and an exempt chooses to not come in, for whatever reason, an October 28, 2005, Department of Labor opinion letter (FLSA2005-46) states an employer may take full-day deductions, counting the absence as “personal” days, without impinging on exempt status. Partial day deductions on exempts are not allowed. If the business is closed, however, exempts must be paid their full salary, because it’s the employer preventing them from working, and that’s on the employer’s dime.

“The important thing,” says Ruth Storrings, HR director of AlphaStaff, a large employment agency based in South Florida, “is have a pay policy before a hurricane. The policy should comply with FLSA regulations.”

Pay for Travel to Alternate Worksites

Last year’s storms also raised questions about paying for time spent traveling to alternate worksites when normal places of business were shut down. Normally, travel to and from work doesn’t qualify for pay. But when AlphaStaff rerouted some of its South Florida employees to its Atlanta offices, those who made the 8-hour drive were paid for their time on the road. Those who took the short 1-hour flight were not.

These questions need not be limited to the East and Gulf Coasts, nor to hurricane situations. They could apply in any foreseeable weather-related work stoppage, such as a major snowstorm or flood. If these events occur in your area, what will your policy be?

“The important thing,” says Storrings, “is that you have to treat people properly. These are people who help you fulfill your obligations during a crisis. And they do remember that.”

What’s your time-off for disasters policy? And is it fair to ask employees to foot the bill when there’s nothing they can do about the weather? Use the “Share Your Comments” button and let us know your thoughts.

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  • gsbeckham

    This situation will become increasingly problematic as global warming increases the number and severity of tropical storms,tornados, hurricanes and even snowstorms(more moisture, water vapor, heavier snowfalls, turbulance, etc).

    It should be carefully looked at,
    *if you are given 48-36 hour notice to evacuate the city …do you gas up, pack-up, then live in your car on job’s parking lot until the end of shift the day of the storm/hurricane and try to beat it out of town with it nipping at your heels. Or, should you send your family ahead and you try to go it alone. Putting your yourself and your family at risk.
    In addition, consider what would happen to them if something happens to you. What if both parents work? What if you don’t have children but are a caregiver. No job should ask it, much less expect it.

    Please, this is unreasonable. Company’s should not consider asking employees to stay up to the last minute. No one should have to choose between their job and the safety of their family or themselves. You can not spend your paycheck if your dead.

    Second, if your job requires you prepare ahead of time and still come to work in spite of the warnings from the government. Who’s liable if you stay and get killed or severly injury trying to leave on the last day of evacuation. Does the company want to take on the cost, will their insurance?

    What, do you think the courts will say if you put that type of pressure on a person, who may really need the pay and their job? If you make them choose. By implying that there could be reprecussions if they leave. You will probably be sued by a lot of people and their families. Who do you think the courts will side with? Since the government gave clear orders to the contrary.

    What if part of the building is blown off or some of the equipment falls on a worker while they are trying to flee the building? Will the company pay hazardous duty pay? Will you have special insurance to cover this?

    They insurance company may refuse to pay given the fact that the government to everyone to leave and you refuted their order.

    This is not a good line of reasoning. Especially, when it would be safer for the company to move all important equipment, material and documents during this time to a safe location, batten down the hatches, close up as tight as possible and hope some of the building remains standing when it’s over.

    You can always rebuild. You can not replace someones father, sister, brother, daughter, son or grandparent.

    Finally,simply because you can do a thing, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. With great power…comes great responsibility, pardon the cliche’. Your employees are your (the company) responsibility and they need to know that they are more than coggs in the wheel to you. They’ll do tremendous things against impossible odds, if you are fair, compassionate, open and honest with them.

    This probably sounds preachy, I apologize, but we are way off the mark in this country. Somehow company’s have gotten the notion that they can do without their employees and their are more where they come from, and that may be true for now…but as the geography for American workers broaden that may not always be the case.