In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, businesses throughout the Gulf Coast region, and along the southeastern seaboard, are scrambling to get back on their feet. To be sure, natural disasters present special problems for employers. Not only must small business owners attend to their own family’s needs, but they are also seeking to accommodate their employees in times of trouble—all while navigating potentially difficult regulatory waters.
For example, following Hurricane Sandy, we heard from many small business owners with questions about how they should handle wage and hour issues when closing shop, or when employees are unable to make it in to work. We’ve put together some general guidance here—which covers a host of common questions. But in addition, employers may want to check-out this recent advisory from Jackson / Lewis, which should serve as a helpful refresher on an employer’s wage and hour obligations when a business is forced to close its doors due to bad weather. Additionally, we thought this article from Littler was especially enlightening, as it covers other important wage and hour issues, as well as additional questions that employers may have if they expect that their operations may be shut-down for an extended timeframe, or if they are contemplating more permanent closures.
Yet of course, the number one priority in the wake of any natural disaster is in ensuring safety and security. And, certainly, if your business has suffered serious property damage, a top concern will be in rebuilding—and in finding the money necessary to carry out reconstruction projects. So in addition to contacting your insurance carriers, you may also want to contact the U.S. Small Business Administration, which offers loans, at low interest rates, to help businesses recover from declared public emergencies.
Likewise, many employers may want to help their employees in times of crisis. Employers may want to direct their employees to state and federal resources—including FEMA’s disaster assistance application. And as explained in this Littler article, employers may also help with “Qualified Disaster Payments” for employees who have suffered personal losses as a result of a qualifying disaster. Employers may be advised to talk with a trusted CPA about this option, as well as the possible tax benefits in making donations to non-profits providing disaster relief.