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With apologies to T.S. Eliot, June is the cruelest month in Florida. It is time to start thinking about hurricanes again. Even if we are blessed with a storm-free six months, no doubt there will be a few near misses that will ramp us all up into prep mode. Here are some reminders 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, whether because the equipment in your office is not functioning or you are without electricity. 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.  Consider software that will send text/SMS messages to employees to keep them advised of the business’s operations and expectations for reporting to work.
  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.  Remind at-home workers to take steps to protect company equipment, such as unplugging devices and covering electronics in plastic, and to protect company documents from water and wind damage.
  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 consider whether having unvetted individuals on property could pose a safety or security risk.  You may wish to stock up on hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and facemasks for those still uncomfortable in large group settings.  In the event employees and others are forced to remain on site after the storm passes, consider having supplies of water, snacks, and paper and hygiene products to help keep everyone more comfortable.
  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. Employers in Florida cannot require employees to enroll for direct deposit of wages.  In the alternative, employers may wish to pre-pay 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.

June may be the cruelest month in Florida because it marks the start of hurricane season.  But it also means the mangos are starting to ripen.  Be safe this hurricane season.