Don’t wait for an emergency to know ins and outs of FLSA, FMLA compliance.
Hurricanes, tornados, floods, fires, blizzards. When disaster strikes, employers have a plethora of concerns. As HR, you need to think about Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) compliance; and you should be prepared to answer employees’ questions about how, when, and if they will be paid if there are evacuations or closures or they need to take time off.
Nonexempt employees only have to be paid for the time they actually work. Therefore, if your organization is evacuated or closed and they don’t have to report to work, these workers don’t have to be paid. Exempt (salaried) employees, on the other hand, must be paid their full salary if they work any time during the week of a closure or evacuation. For instance, if everyone but essential staff are sent home on Wednesday because of blizzard and not required to report back to work until Friday, they must receive their full, normal paycheck. However, employers can require workers to use available leave for these absences.
If there is a snowstorm or other inclement weather and everyone is expected to report to work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, employees can be required to use personal time for days off; or they can take leave without pay if they don’t have personal time saved up or are gone for more than a few days. However, if a salaried worker is just late to work or leaves a few hours early because of bad weather, their pay can’t be docked. Some employers require workers to make up lost time when they return to work, which is allowable for exempt employees only. (It’s always best to seek legal counsel before you dock someone’s pay for any reason.)
Any employees who are injured or become ill as a result of a natural disaster can use FMLA leave. They also can use this benefit if they need to care for an affected family member. If employees want to volunteer for disaster assistance/relief efforts, employers may choose to offer them some paid leave for these activities. If employers maintain “leave banks,” they may let workers donate their leave time to colleagues who want to volunteer for relief work.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees who are injured—physically or mentally—as the result of a disaster may be entitled to employer accommodation as long as it wouldn’t cause undue hardship for the organization. Any employees who feel that they have been put in imminent danger by being obligated to work during a hurricane may file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA). It is the employer’s responsibility to keep employees safe during disasters, as well as cleanup and recovery. Based on the results of an initial hazard assessment, employers must provide workers with appropriate protective equipment, training, and information to safely perform any cleanup work after a disaster.