Bouncing Back from Natural Disaster: 3 Plans to Outline Today
By Erica Brune
When natural disasters strike, whether it’s in your own backyard or across the country, it gets many people thinking of their own emergency plans. Would your employees know what to do in—and after—an emergency situation? September is National Preparedness Month and a perfect time to dust off your emergency preparedness policy for review and circulation to your staff.
In addition to the emotional and personal effects emergency situations have on employees’ lives, our industry is unique in the exposure these incidents have on our business. Be sure to address these three key areas as you plan: policy, safety and pay. Although preparing for every scenario is difficult, having a plan in place will help make the recovery process more manageable.
Policy – Clearly Outline Expectations
Business insurance and rental policies often have emergency plans that include: when and how to contact your insurance company, a list of disaster response vendors, and emergency personnel contact information.
Rental policies may also include property-specific plans, such as senior housing where resident relocation could be the first priority. These are only a few examples and every property should have a tailored response plan.
Confirm your policy also has instructions on expectations for employees during an emergency. For example, does your business require staff at all times? If so, consider stating that business does not close for inclement weather and that employees must use their own judgment on traveling to their work location. Allow paid time off when available and clearly outline how that request can be processed.
List important phone numbers and back-up contacts to report employee whereabouts during emergencies. Include how to access your systems, if that is permitted.
Finally, policies are only good if they can be followed.
- Remind employees to print the preparedness policy and keep it at their home location in case access to power or the Internet is down.
- Print hard copies at the property and post them in common areas.
- Distribute prior to upcoming events when possible and circulate before winter and storm season annually.
Safety – Employee Safety is Paramount
Employee safety is critical to dealing with emergencies. Employees are trained to assist tenants and take care of the property; they take this seriously. Give reminders on what is expected from them in emergency situations to help keep everyone on task to what they are trained to do. Emphasize that their safety is your first priority.
Follow protocols administered from local law enforcement. If employees are permitted to shelter in place, remind them that they are there to assist but should never conduct work where they feel they could be in danger. Examples would be, wading through standing water, using equipment such as saws, forklifts or ladders when they are not trained or permitted, or working extended hours without breaks. Heroic behavior can be unsafe and will likely cause additional emergency situations that can take first responders away from their posts. Taking precaution can help lead to fewer injuries and Worker’s Compensation claims to deal with in the aftermath.
Pay – Stay Compliant, Be Compassionate
The Department of Labor clearly outlines that all hours worked must be paid. If you allow employees to work around-the-clock during emergencies, be prepared to pay them for that.
Outline how hours should be recorded in the event employees do not have access to electricity or the Internet and be flexible with the process.
Clearly outline expectations.
Employees who live at the community are most likely to stay and work extended hours. If you want to prohibit work, make that clear and what hours they are allowed to work. That is easier said than done. Many people rise to the circumstance and do extraordinary work during times of emergency, just be clear that all time worked must be paid.
You are allowed to outline approved work schedules and prohibit working off the clock. Employees who remain on property should be off the clock, and out of uniform, unless scheduled.
Getting Back to Business
The United States has seen its fair share of natural disasters this year and there is no sign that they are ending soon. The key to a smoother recovery is to be proactive with emergency preparedness planning. Once the storm clears and it’s back to business, consult with your HR professional to ensure you’re in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, and Workers’ Compensation injury reporting.