Benefits, Strategic HR

Helping Employees After a Natural Disaster

Recent natural disasters – like hurricanes and wildfires – have prompted employers and employees alike to consider how the employment relationship is impacted after disaster strikes. Employers are in a unique position to be able to directly impact how quickly their employees are able to get back on their feet. There are a lot of actions employers can take to positively impact the situation.

Here are some examples of employer actions that could help:

  • Allow employees to work from home. This could help employees who are struggling to deal with home issues after a major disaster, but it is also simply practical: many places may be without power, and the workplace could be one of them. For any employee who is able to work from home, it could mean the employer gets back to productivity faster. It could also mean the employees have to take less PTO, which they could be grateful for.
  • Consider suspending call-in rules in the days immediately after a disaster. This is particularly relevant if you have a strict call-in policy that could result in someone losing their job. Employees may not have access to communication services immediately after a weather event. Consider relaxing the call-in requirements or the discipline that normally results after not calling in properly.
  • Consider suspending other policies temporarily, such as strict dress codes, strict “no personal calls” policies, or strict tardiness policies. Having the ability to have this flexibility can go a long way for employees to recover more efficiently.
  • Assess how much employees will be paid while unable to come to work. After a disaster, it’s likely there will be some days where either employees are unable to come to the workplace or the workplace itself is not equipped to function. The power may be out, internet may be down, there could be flooding, etc. This presents a complication for employers—how much time must an employee be paid if they’re unable to come in? While this is a more complex topic worthy of discussion, the short version is that hourly employees must only be paid for actual hours worked, while salaried exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any week in which they worked (but they can be required to use PTO for the days they were unable to work). There may be some resentment over following the letter of the law here, so it can be useful for employers to consider giving employees a few extra paid days if the budget will allow it.
  • Allow flexible work hours. In the aftermath of a natural disaster there are likely many things at home to attend to—many of which must be attended to during normal working hours. If possible, it may be useful for many employees to be allowed to work non-standard hours, even if only temporarily, in order to manage this better. This can allow some employees to come back to work sooner if they have the flexibility to still deal with issues at home.
  • Train supervisory staff about handling stressed employees. In the aftermath of any situation like this, employees are likely to be more stressed and less productive. Employees may have more emotional reactions (and overreactions), anger/frustration and outbursts, or simply be unable to concentrate and do the job well. Train your supervisory team to be empathetic in these situations and to have realistic expectations.

This list is just a starter. For more about natural disaster planning and how employers can help, see tomorrow’s article, “Preparing for a Natural Disaster or Emergency” for more tips.