Learning & Development

Emergency Management Preparedness: What is HR’s Role?

Emergency management preparedness often falls squarely in HR’s lap. Preparing for emergencies involves evaluating your risks, determining the legal and regulatory players, and determining the role of (and how to manage) unions, vendors, and contractors, especially on a multi-employer site.

How can you design and communicate effective emergency management procedures? Why is this HR’s responsibility? What is HR’s role? In a BLR webinar titled "Emergency Management at Work: How to Prepare for and Respond to a Crisis Situation," Tracy Moon outlined some answers to these questions for us.

Emergency Management Preparedness: Why the Buck Stops at HR’s Desk

"Corporations, no matter how big, are made up of people," Moon explained. "The HR department is chiefly responsible for establishing and implementing employment policies and procedures. They are the main communicator with regard to employment policies and procedures with employees." This is one of the primary reasons that HR will be involved in emergency management preparedness, including preventing emergency occurrences, responding to them, and cleaning up afterwards should one occur. "The HR department is the go-to department when it comes to employment policies and procedures and what to do in emergency situations."

Additionally, employee training is one of the key pieces of emergency management preparedness, but it can only be implemented after the HR department and management team have developed policies and procedures to deal with emergencies and catastrophes.

Emergency Management Preparedness: What is HR’s Role After a Workplace Fatality?

"One of the worst situations that anyone in the workplace, particularly HR, can deal with is a fatality. The HR [department] needs to determine its role and its procedures associated with such an event." In order to do this, Moon explained, all of the various responsibilities should be reviewed and assigned – either to HR or to a more appropriate department. Naturally, this will require coordination between departments. "You want to make sure that any response is the most effective in handling the catastrophe or the emergency, and that includes not only the HR’s role, but other department’s roles."

Here are examples of HR responsibilities, procedures, and other things that need to be taken into consideration in advance as part of your emergency management preparedness plan. These should be assigned/answered in advance or delegated to someone before an emergency occurs:

  • working with emergency responders
  • protecting and calming employees, updating them, and addressing grief issues
  • participating in the investigation and root cause analysis
  • handling discipline issues and the evaluation of the legality of employee responses and retaliation concerns
  • assisting with responses to OSHA; to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau (ATF); to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB); to law enforcement; to fire marshals, to local and state government officials; to the media; etc.
  • coordinating communication between insurers and benefit providers
  • integrating work with legal counsel
  • crafting internal and external communications
  • managing pay and benefits for disrupted employees
  • handling compliance questions related to travel, relocation, remote-work and temporary employees
  • responding to union contract and "turf" concerns about investigations, work rules, job descriptions, temporary employees and discipline
  • obtaining medical information about injured and killed employees
  • evaluation of contractor relationships
  • overseeing and regulating social media and electronic communications
  • providing documentation of training, procedures, personnel and other records to investigating agencies (including documentation of job safety analyses, mandatory training, employee action plans, emergency response plans, fire prevention plans, etc.)
  • cooperating with safety, engineering, risk management and operations to both address contributing factors and to implement best practices
  • coordinating responses between unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, OSHA, EEOC, arbitration and insurer/benefit responses

With this list, you can see how important it is to address emergency management preparedness in advance!

Emergency Management Preparedness: What is HR’s Role During and After Longer-Term Disruptions?

If there’s a long-term disruption, what is HR’s role? Moon outlined this list of considerations that you should plan for in advance:

  • What should you do when a remote site or corporate office became inaccessible?
  • What is HR’s role in remote work and telecommuting?
  • Who is responsible for cross training? Succession planning? Shifting operations to different facilities?
  • Who should create new job descriptions? Who informs employees, vendors, and customers of changed roles?
  • What is HR’s role in necessary overnight stays and travel? Will attendance rules need to be changed?
  • What is the effect of communicable disease or public safety on the company?
  • What concerns do you have on getting employees to work (in the case of a disruption of public services, for example)?
  • What is the effect of communicable disease concerns on coworker relationships?
  • How should you communicate with employees?
  • How will you pay employees during a disruption? (What if banks are closed or direct deposit is no longer available?)
  • How will you compensate for non-routine work?
  • Who will evaluate exposure based upon unanticipated use of leave or other benefits? What about taking care of family or property during the emergency – will leave be allowed?
  • How will you handle security management to minimize theft and protect trade secrets?
  • How will you handle layoffs, terminations and reduced schedules?
  • What is HR’s role in coordinating with OSHA’s local inspectors, County and State Health Departments, the CDC, etc.?

While HR may not be directly involved in many of these areas, HR still has a role and a responsibility to communicate with the other departments and ensure consistency across the company.

For more information on emergency management preparedness, order the full emergency management boot campbootcamp recording. To register for a future webinar on emergency management preparedness or related topics, visit http://catalog.blr.com/audio.

Tracy L. Moon, Jr., is a partner in the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP. (www.laborlawyers.com) He represents employers in all aspects of labor and employment law, including representation of before the National Labor Relations Board and other government agencies, including the EEOC and OSHA. Tracy both counsels and trains employers on labor and employment law. He also conducts on-site compliance inspections and in-house management training programs.