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Hurricane Michael: Top To-Do’s for Total Rewards Professionals

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Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle on Wednesday and it's being labeled as a Category 4 storm. Experts expect this massive tropical storm to affect other parts of Florida as well as Alabama and Georgia, as states of emergency are in place for all three.

While safety and evacuation are the top priorities for all individuals in the region, there is a checklist of to-do’s for employers to provide all possible resources to employees — and keep the business running.

Compensation

  • How will employees get paid?
  • How much will you pay if a work day is cut short or work is suspended for several days? Check state and federal laws, but if U.S. employers close their business due to inclement weather or natural disasters for less than a full workweek, the employer may be required to pay the employee’s full salary, even if:
    • The employer does not have a bona fide benefits plan.
    • The employee has no accrued benefits in the leave bank.
    • The employee has limited accrued leave benefits and reducing the accrued leave will result in a negative balance.
    • The employee has a negative balance in the accrued leave bank.
    • None of these scenarios preclude paying the employee. Private employers may, however, deduct from an exempt employee’s leave bank for any days that the worksite was closed, whether for full- or partial-day absences, as long as the employee receives payment equal to his/her guaranteed salary.
  • Consider whether pay or reimbursement of employee expenses may be covered under Section 139 of the IRS Code. Adopted by Congress in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, employers that pay or reimburse employee expenses that qualify as “qualified disaster relief payments” in connection with a “qualified disaster” are not taxable as income, not subject to employment taxes or withholding, and generally are deductible by the employer.
  • Review and be aware of all income replacement options and benefits.

Benefits

  • Be prepared for an increase in requests for time off after the storm, including leaves of absence and reasonable accommodations.
  • Depending on individual circumstances, be prepared for requests for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Consider adopting temporary paid time off policies for affected employees. This PTO would be treated as wages for income and employment tax purposes.
  • Consider adopting leave sharing programs that allow employees to donate vacation, sick leave or PTO.
  • Be aware that the U.S. Department of Labor also is providing disaster relief assistance.

After the Storm

  • Worst case scenario, if facilities must be closed, remember to evaluate whether notice is required under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining and Notification Act (WARN).
  • Coordinate communications with management, company spokespeople and public agencies.
  • Decide who is responsible for contacting clients and employees to provide updates.
  • Consider developing messages to employees that answer several questions:
    • When should I report to work?
    • Will I have a job?
    • Will I get paid for the time we were shut down or can I collect unemployment?
    • Is the workplace safe for me to return? What are you, as the employer, doing to ensure my safety?
    • What's happened to my co-workers (if applicable)?
  • Determine and communicate how employees can ask questions and get information.
  • Understand employees' priorities when they return to work. Ease transitions back to work by considering modified work schedules and flexible leave.
  • When coming back to work, employees likely will not want to worry about dry cleaning or packing a lunch. Consider temporarily relaxing the dress code, providing meals and loosening restrictions on personal email use.
  • Offer crisis and grief counseling and alert your Employee Assistance Program provider to anticipate calls.

Members should also refer to WorldatWork’s Business Continuity Planning for Natural and Man-Made Disasters for additional tips and insight.

Hurricane Michael is being labeled as the strongest hurricane to ever come ashore along the Florida Panhandle in records dating to 1851, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, tropical scientist at Colorado State University. Florida’s entire Gulf Coast north of Punta Gorda has never recorded a Category 4-plus hurricane landfall.

An estimated 500,000 people were under evacuation orders and advisories in Florida. Governor Rick Scott tweeted this morning that the evacuation period has ended and first responders will no longer be able to come out in the middle of the storm.

Technology companies including AppRiver and Datto have activated MSP-centric business continuity and disaster recovery plans ahead of the storm, which may trigger as many as 2 million power outages, according to a University of Michigan forecast.

Because Michael has become so strong so fast, the National Weather Service issued a special advisory for central and eastern Georgia warning of a “potentially historical tropical event.”

About the Author 

Brett Christie is a staff writer at WorldatWork. 

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