Help Employees Recover from Disaster, and Help Your Business, with these 10 Critical Tips

By September 19, 2017 No Comments
help employees recover

Help Employees Recover from the Effects of Hurricane Harvey. Will there be enough workers to fix this? (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Help employees recover from disaster and by doing so you can also help your business as well. Manhattan Resources joins other businesses in confronting the after effects of Hurricane Harvey. To be fair, the hurricane itself was only a prelude to the horrific flooding that displaced about 45,000 Texans from their homes, business and jobs.

In the aftermath, how do we restore normalcy? How do we address the profound level of need and help employees recover? How does a business begin to pick up the pieces? Getting your business back to routine is critical as Houston employees need to count on a regular income to address the myriad problems they face.

Important Tips Help Employees Recover their Lives and Restore Order in Your Business

Many employers, who themselves may be homeless, now must learn quickly how to cope with longer term issues they have never experienced. Ten issues, provided by after Hurricane Ike, stand out as the most likely to be encountered by employers after large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Harvey.

1. Establish Communication with Displaced Workers. It might take time for displaced employees to “check in.” You can improve reporting time by establishing a check-in point such as a toll-free number and a website reporting feature to serve as a communications center.

2. Payment of Wages. Government aid may not be available at once, or in substantial amounts. Employers should communicate the terms of such payments to avoid any confusion after the fact and help employees recover more quickly. A charitable gift to aid employees is different from an advance on future wages, and should be communicated. Employers in affected areas who are unable to make payroll should understand state laws governing deadlines for the payment of wages (as well as taxes). Although employers may not know the whereabouts of all employees, employers should make a good-faith effort to pay all wages owed.

3. Other Wage/Hour Concerns. Employers should be aware of the need to accurately record employee work time, and keep in mind that any work done for the benefit of the employer (even charity) might be considered work time.

4. Transfer of Workers to Other Operations. In the aftermath of a hurricane, thousands of people may never return to the hardest-hit areas, or will return only after the completion of extensive. Consider transfer of affected employees to other operations in surrounding areas to retain valuable skills and experience.

5. Flexible Leave. Most company handbooks make no allowance for weather-related disasters. Human resources must improvise answers to critical questions such as how long to wait for employees to make contact before starting termination. Flexibility and compassion are critical. Many employees affected by a storm will qualify for family and medical leave (FMLA), bereavement leave or other types of leave offered under company policy or federal and state laws. Post-traumatic stress, or depression resulting from the aftermath of the storm, might also qualify employees for medical leave under the FMLA, or similar company policies to help employees recover. Extreme care should be taken before denying leave or terminating employees for a failure to return to work.

Help Employees Recover

Many employees affected by a storm will qualify for family and medical leave (FMLA), bereavement leave or other types of leave offered under company policy or federal and state laws. (ABC News)

6. Medical Insurance Coverage. Medical insurance can help employees recover after a disaster and many employees take advantage of this option. Consider giving important benefit information on the company website, or through a communication center.

7. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Most employers have EAPs either separately or as a part of their health insurance benefits. Communicate the availability of such programs to affected employees and contact benefit providers to explore ways to ease the use of such programs that may help employees rocover, including making qualified counselors available on site or in areas where a large number of employees have evacuated. These services are invaluable, and may facilitate employees returning to normalcy, including the resumption of employment.

8. Immigration Issues. Many evacuees face not only the challenge of finding new employment, but the secondary hurdle of doing so without the paperwork needed to show that they can work legally in the United States. The government made it possible for local employers to hire such individuals on September 6, 2005, when the Department of Homeland Security announced for the next 45 days, it would not seek civil sanctions from employers who hire hurricane victims that lack the documentation required to satisfy the Form I-9/Employment Eligibility Verification requirements. Employers must still have the employees complete Section 1 of the Form I-9, but they need not review the employees’ documents if they are not available. In an update on October 21, 2005 the agency announced that employers were “expected to fully complete the Form I-9 for recently hired victims of Hurricane Katrina who were previously unable to provide proper documentation.” It added: “Employers who have made reasonable, good-faith efforts to comply with existing requirements, but are still unable as of October 21, 2005, to complete the required information, should note with specificity on the Form I-9 what steps they have taken to verify employment eligibility.”

9. Donating Co-worker Leave. On September 8, 2005, the IRS issued IRS Notice 2005-68, permitting an employee to donate unused paid leave in exchange for employer cash payments to a qualified charity providing relief to Hurricane Katrina victims. Across the country, citizens, and co-workers search for ways to help their neighbors deal with recent tragedy. Several large companies allow employees to donate vacation leave or paid time off to other employees within the company who may be in greater need of these benefits. Before implementing such programs, it is important for companies to set up procedures and guidelines for the implementation and consider any potential legal and tax implications of the program.

Help Employees Recover

Vehicles sit in floodwaters after Hurricane Harvey at a Houston dealership on Aug. 29. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

10. Layoffs/Business Closures. Unfortunately, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced many business owners to lay off employees or move or cease operations in affected areas. These actions have both legal and community ramifications, and employers should carefully consider before doing so. Most notably, certain employers may have notice obligations under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) if laid off or dislocated employees suffer a significant reduction in work hours for more than six months. A hurricane may be the type of unforeseeable business circumstance warranting an exception to the WARN Act, employers are strongly advised to seek legal counsel in this area if layoffs or closings become necessary.
Recovery from a natural disaster can be a slow and sometimes frustrating process. As an employer, you can help by setting reasonable expectations during this time. A little extra flexibility and support can help keep morale up so that employees continue to be productive.

Are you facing workplace challenges? Manhattan Resources helps with a variety of business solutions addressing long-term and short-term issues including temporary project teams, on-site consultants in a variety of specialized fields and interim C-suite, executive and management personnel.