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If the folks on the news are talking about el Niño, it must be hurricane season. Last year, Hurricane Ian reminded us how devastating a storm can be. However, even fewer menacing storms can disrupt our lives and businesses. With that in mind, we once again offer tips on how to prepare your business for the new hurricane season.

  1. Update the home address, home telephone number, cell phone number and personal email address for each of your employees. You may need to use cell phones, texting, and personal email to communicate with employees after a storm if the equipment in your office is not functioning. Consider having an analog telephone on hand and landline available because digital and VOIP telephone systems will not work if the power is out.
  2. Designate an emergency response team and provide each team member with a list of employees for whom he or she is responsible for contacting after the storm has passed.
  3. Provide information on the company’s voicemail system and website so that employees can check the status of the business’s operations and receive updates.
  4. For employees working from home, make sure they have needed office supplies in the event the business is unable to restock employees after the storm.  Employers may wish to provide surge protectors to employees using company-issued equipment to help protect laptops, printers, etc.
  5. Are you a business that must remain open even during natural disasters, such as a hotel or hospital? If so, you must identify essential personnel who are required to remain at work during the storm. You may also want to ask for volunteers to work during the hurricane. The business should consider incentives to encourage employees to volunteer to work, such as increased pay or earned days off. Consider whether your business can accommodate the household members and/or pets of employees who are required to work or who volunteer to work during the storm. Employers may wish to assess whether inviting household members to “ride out the storm” at the workplace will ease the minds of employees, allowing them to focus on their duties, or serve as a distraction.  Please also consider whether “inviting” additional people into the workplace is consistent with any remaining COVID-19 procedures and whether having unvetted individuals on property could pose a safety or security risk.
  6. Employers should consider in advance whether they will compensate employees if a disaster prevents the workplace from operating. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers only need to pay non-exempt employees for the hours they actually work. However, if an exempt employee works only part of a day, the FLSA prohibits the employer from docking the employee for a partial day absence. If the exempt employee is precluded from working because the business is not operational, the employer may still have to compensate the employee and may not be permitted to require the employee to use paid leave for that day off. If the exempt employee is unable to report to work for a personal reason, including inability to travel to the workplace, the employer may be able to dock the employee for that day’s pay or require the employee to substitute paid leave for the day’s absence.
  7. Consider how the company will distribute paychecks if the business is not functioning. Employers may wish to consider asking employees to enroll in a direct deposit program so that wages can be electronically transferred into their accounts, assuming of course that the financial institutions involved in the transaction are operating. Employers in Florida cannot require employees to enroll for direct deposit of wages.
  8. Require employees working from home in the storm’s aftermath to track and log their hours worked. Non-exempt employees who are working from home must be paid for all hours worked. The employer will need some mechanism to track and limit the hours spent working remotely. If the company does not want non-exempt employees working from home, the employer should communicate that clearly before the storm arrives.
  9. After several major hurricanes, some employees wished to donate accrued leave time to their co-workers who were more dramatically impacted by the storm. Consider whether your company will allow such donations of accrued time and what tax implications, if any, there may be.

Let’s hope we have an uneventful hurricane season and el Niño helps keep storms far from our shores.